Sugar Research when Science is Sponsored

In January 2017, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine published a report developed by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine about Sponsorship of National Health Organizations by Two Major Soda Companies*.

This report showed that between 2011 to 2015, 96 national health organizations accepted money from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo or both companies. The groups accepting sponsorships included the American Diabetes Association, the National Institutes of Health, the American Red Cross, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and many more (63 public health groups, 19 medical organizations, seven health foundations, five government groups and two food supply groups). They found that Pepsi sponsored 14% of the organizations and Coca-Cola sponsored 99%.

What happens when a company sponsors national health and medical organizations?

As shown in the conclusions of this report, both the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo have lobbied against public health intervention in 97% of cases, calling into question a sincere commitment to improving the public’s health. By accepting funding from these companies, health organizations are inadvertently participating in their marketing plans.

One of the most high profile examples of corporate meddling was the revelation that Coca-Cola had paid scientists** to push the message that exercise was a more effective weight loss tool than cutting down on food and drink. The Coca-cola Company went so far as to create a nonprofit called the Global Energy Balance Network to push the message that Americans spend too much time focusing on cutting calories, and not enough time exercising. After months of pressure from public health authorities and criticism, the nonprofit announced it was disbanding. In a bid to be more transparent, Coca-Cola revealed it had spent $132.8m on scientific research and partnerships between 2010 and 2015***.

In 2014, it was published a research called “Reviews examining sugar-sweetened beverages and body weight: correlates of their quality and conclusions”****. The results of this study showed that industry-funded reviews were more likely to suggest that evidence supporting a causal relation between sugar-sweetened beverages consumption and weight gain was weak (mean position score = 1.78), whereas evidence was generally considered well-founded in other reviews (mean position score = 3.39; P ≤ 0.01). In other words, when the scientists were sponsored, the results indicated that sugary drinks do not produce weight gain.

In 2013 a group of scientists conducted a search of different databases, in order to identify if Industry sponsors' financial interests might bias the conclusions of scientific research. This research, called “Financial Conflicts of Interest and Reporting Bias Regarding the Association between Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review of Systematic Reviews”*****, concluded that the adverse effects of sugary beverages are only visible in independent studies. When the studies are funded or sponsored this relationship disappears.