University Returns $1 Million That Coke Donated to Group to Push Exercise Over Diet

The University of Colorado is giving back the cash used to start the Global Energy Balance Network.
(Photo: Rachel Murray/Getty Images)
Nov 9, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

In recent months, focus has intensified on Coca-Cola’s financial support for medical researchers and public-health advocacy groups—funding that critics say has watered down and distracted from scientific evidence that soda is a leading culprit in the obesity epidemic. The company revealed in September that it has spent nearly $120 million on such efforts, but this weekend, a small symbolic share of that was returned. The University of Colorado announced that it would give back the $1 million that Coke granted to help start the Global Energy Balance Network, a nonprofit that promotes exercise, not improved diet, as the best way to combat obesity.

Steven N. Blair, the exercise scientist and cofounder of GEBN who became infamous for saying “there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that” diet is the primary cause of obesity, is a professor at Colorado.

“While the network continues to advocate for good health through a balance of healthy eating habits and exercise,” the university said in a statement, “the funding source has distracted attention from its worthwhile goal.”

“The network continues to support a vigorous scientific discussion of the contributions of dietary and physical activity behaviors to the obesity epidemic,” the statement continued. Yet the money is being returned. According to Coca-Cola, it will pass the $1 million along to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

In August, The New York Times’ reporting on Coke’s relationship with GEBN sparked media and public interest in the soda company’s dealings with the medical community. While Coca-Cola has long maintained relationships with nutritionist groups and the like that critics lambasted, the recent controversy led Coke to disclose all its spending.

“Our engagement and financial support of these well-respected experts, institutions, and organizations were made with the best of intentions—to inform our business, support our local communities, and support solutions to the public health issues facing people across the United States and around the world,” Sandy Douglas, Coke’s president for North America, said in a statement when the financial disclosures were announced.

Responding to the University of Colorado news, Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University and the author of the recent book Soda Politics, told The New York Times, “Let’s hope other groups also decide to do the right thing and end such financial relationships.”