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Exercise isn't the key to weight loss. Still. But food companies want to convince you otherwise. This is Healthcare Triage News.

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Exercise isn't the key to weight loss, still. But, food companies have been trying to convince you otherwise. This is Healthcare Triage News.


We have had multiple episodes discussing how diet, not exercise, is the key to a healthy weight. Many of you disagree. You point to evidence, which usually isn't that great. Now, it turns out, some of it might have been tainted.

Recently, over at the BMJ, Paul Thacker, a freelance journalist, published a story on how Coca-Cola was funding a series of journalism conferences covertly. The purpose? To relay the message that exercise is a bigger problem than sugar when it comes to obesity.

About two years ago, the New York Times and the AP wrote stories about the Global Engery Balance Network, a collaboration between Coca-Cola and scientists at the University of Colorado to handle the obesity epidemic. The company gave the school one million dollars. The coverage didn't sit well with the public, and the whole thing wound up getting shut down.

Turns out that, much less publicly, this had been going on for a while, though. Freedom on Information laws allowed the British Medical Journal to get documents which showed that Coca-Cola has been funding similar conferences as early as 2011. And they worked. Journalists who attended them left and wrote stories on how exercise mattered, not drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. 

James Hill, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado and a major recipient of this funding, wrote the company after one of these conferences in 2012, and said, and I'm quoting, "The journalist told us [that] this was an amazing event and they generated a lot of stories. You basically supported the meeting this year... I think we can get many more sponsors involved next year." Coca-Cola sent the school another $45,000 a few months later.

Problem is, and it's always this, they weren't transparent. Others, including the National Press Foundation, didn't know about the funding and the conflicts of interest. When a journalist complained, and the National Press Foundation asked, a different professor told them that, and I'm quoting again, "The funding for this came from our general educational grant resources." No acknowledgement of their conversations with Coca-Cola or their funding.

According to the article, Coca-Cola said that in 2015, they did disclose on their website funding for conferences in 2012, after the news stories broke. But, this was years later of course.

Given the anger I've received over episodes defending artificial sweeteners, I hope I've established my bona fides of a not enemy of the soda industry. I'm not anti-food companies. Tons of episodes should back that up. But, we've also talked about conflicts of interest so many times here, too. You can't hide this stuff. You've got to acknowledge it. All kinds of conflicts. They're important.

Clearly, the soda companies have an interest here. It's in, what, the billions of dollars? Spending tens of thousands here and there is nothing to generate positive press. That's what it appears they were doing.


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