Coca-Cola Is Funding Controversial Research That Claims Bad Diets Don't Cause Obesity

Coca-Cola is being criticized for promoting misleading messages about bad diets. Deymos.HR/Shutterstock.

Coca-Cola is doing everything it can to shift the blame of the obesity crisis from poor diet to a lack of exercise. The sugary drink giant has been heavily criticized for donating millions of dollars to the new nonprofit Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN).

According to a New York Times report, Coca-Cola is teaming up with GEBN to promote a new “science-based” solution to tackling obesity. The world’s largest producer of sugary drinks wants people to focus less on bad diets and more on exercising to lose weight.

“Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ – blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on,” one of the nonprofit's scientists and the vice president, Steven N. Blair, said in a recent video. “And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

It all comes down to the idea of energy balance and how people apply it in their lives. Your energy balance is a simple equation of the amount of calories you take in, through food and drink, with the amount of energy you burn, through physical activity. So the calories you consume is “energy in” while the calories you burn is “energy out.” To maintain a healthy diet, you have to maintain a healthy energy balance. If you’re using more calories than you take in, you lose weight, but if you are taking in more calories than you burn, then you gain weight.

GEBN suggests that we’re focusing too much on one aspect of the equation and ignoring the effect of calories burnt. While exercise is clearly important to maintain a healthy weight, a number of health experts are criticizing Coca-Cola for spreading misleading messages about dieting.

“Coca-Cola’s agenda here is very clear: Get these researchers to confuse the science and deflect attention from dietary intake,” Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, told the New York Times.

And it’s obvious why they are invested in blaming the obesity epidemic on a lack of exercise. Though it’s still one of the most profitable companies in the world, Coca-Cola has announced significant losses over the last decade as sales continue to decline in the U.S. More and more people in the U.S. are shifting away from carbonated drinks and even diet soda because of health concerns.

Of course, exercise is extremely important for a healthy lifestyle, but numerous studies have shown the detrimental effect of sugary drinks. Other studies suggest that dietary changes are actually more effective than physical activity. As Think Progress explains, it would take 30 minutes of jogging or swimming to burn around 350 calories, while the same amount can be cut out by forgoing a couple of bottles of sugary drinks.

To lose about half a kilogram (1 lb.) a week, you would need to slash 500 calories from your diet a day. Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told Live Science that “It would be much easier to eliminate those 500 calories [from our diet] than to find the time to exercise enough to burn 500 calories a day.” He described GEBN's idea to focus on exercise to tackle the obesity epidemic as “ridiculous.” Other studies have shown that exercise isn’t the Holy Grail to weight loss, as it can increase appetite, which could lead people to eat more.

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