Why Are So Many Major Health Organizations Funded By Soda Companies?

There’s no escaping cola in America. Soda is available in grocery store, restaurants, schools, office buildings, vending machines, etc. Even in places where you can’t buy soda, you’re bound to see advertisements encouraging you to buy soda.

One place you wouldn’t expect to see much soda is in health organizations. Surely groups devoted to keeping the public healthy would avoid any association with these high calorie and sugar beverages, right?

Actually, the soda industry is in tight with public health groups. Academics at Boston University discovered that two soda giants – PepsiCo and Coca-Cola – sponsored about 100 health advocacy groups in the United States between the years of 2011 and 2015.

We’re not just talking small, insignificant public health organizations either. The top soda corporations throw money at big names like the American Diabetes Association, the American Red Cross and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to name a few.

Though neither corporation formally responded to this news, lobbyists for both soda brands at the American Beverage Association (ABA) have defended the spending as a commitment to helping to create a healthier America rather than anything nefarious.

Still, if the soda industry cares so much about public health, why in that same four-year span did Pepsi and Coca-Cola oppose nearly 30 significant public health regulations and bills that sought to limit the amount of soda consumed by America?

That’s a rhetorical question – obviously, soda companies prioritize selling their products and making money. It begs the question, though, whether or not the soda companies are hoping their sponsorships of health groups will influence the kind of advocacy these groups will do. Would an organization beholden to sponsors risk pissing off Coca-Cola by launching an anti-soda campaign?

Historically, the sugar industry has definitely meddled with health research. Last month, UCSF researchers released archived letters proving that, in the 1960s, top Harvard nutritionists accepted money from the sugar industry to intentionally underreport the role that sugar played in causing heart disease, passing the buck to fat and cholesterol instead.

More recently, public attention to soda sponsorships has already started making a difference. For years, the ABA had been in the habit of paying dieticians to publicly oppose soda taxes on their social media accounts. Just last week, however, the ABA pledged to stop this shady business exchange.

Though many of the health groups named in the report have declined to comment, the American Heart Association insisted it does want to reduce the amount of sugary beverages Americans drink.

“To achieve our goals, we must engage a wide variety of food and beverage companies to be part of the solution,” reads an AHA press statement. “As clearly evidenced by our work, under no circumstances does such occasional funding have any influence on our science and the public policy positions we advocate for.”

It’s hard to say whether or not that’s true, however, which is why the medical groups should eliminate this potential conflict of interest.

As The Washington Post points out, this scenario is reminiscent of how tobacco companies used to throw a lot of its money at health advocacy groups in order to stifle reports about just how deadly cigarettes are. Eventually, public health organizations decided to cut financial ties to big tobacco because it posed a lot of ethical concerns.

You may be asking, “Is it really fair to compare soda and cigarettes?” Actually, some doctors have made the case that drinking soda is worse for you than smoking. At the very least, with all of the health concerns soda consumption poses, it’s time for health organizations to start looking at Coca-Cola and Pepsi as enemies rather than sponsors.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

62 comments

Wendi M.
Wendi Mabout a year ago

Just like the explosion of Big Pharmacy Corps :(

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Michelle Spradley
Michelle Spradleyabout a year ago

The answer is probably related to why the dentist used to give out candy! If you don't like a product, don't consume it. There is a reason why soda companies can afford to fund our major health organizations. Guess where they get all that money in the first place.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIEabout a year ago

Because they are winning both ways.

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natasha salgado
Past Member about a year ago

Simple it just comes down to $$$$...and soda companies have tons of it thanks to the billions round the globe filling their pockets. It's just wrong but since when have we seen common sense execercised by our political suits.

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Denise D.
Denise Dabout a year ago

It does make you wonder.....

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Lindsay Kemp
Lindsay Kabout a year ago

Hmmmmm. Thanks for sharing

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Philippa Powers
Philippa Powersabout a year ago

Money talks; and, unfortunately, people listen.

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Fred L.
Fred Labout a year ago

@Christeen Anderson~~"Because soda is bad for your health meaning they both prosper." Just a terrific, insightful comment.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Bearaabout a year ago

It is necessary to have an alternative to alcohol especially for minors and people who are driving. There should be a wide range and the sugary ones should be dearer.

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