Editor’s Note: We are pleased to present this guest post by our colleague Derek Fields.
Last week Coke rolled out the first ever six-month update to its transparency database. This update increased the total funding by over $14 million, from $118.6 to $132.8 million. It also made a disproportionately high number of changes to funding for organizations, like the ACSM, that help push Coke’s energy balance agenda.
Coke first published the database in September of 2015 in the wake of the New York Times exposé on Coke’s corruption of health science and the Global Energy Balance Network (a story that CrossFit broke). Remember, the Global Energy Balance Network pushed Coke’s false narrative about physical activity being the only important factor in the fight against obesity. Here’s a video of Dr. Steven Blair, the president of the GEBN, saying that obesity isn’t linked to eating too much fast food and drinking too many sugary drinks. We’re sure it’s just a coincidence that there are four grants actually labeled with Dr. Blair’s name in the database that total nearly $5.5 million.
Since the NYT story broke, major media outlets around the world, including the Times of London and the Sydney Morning Herald, have exposed Coke’s corruption of the health sciences across the globe. All those stories have caused many organizations to reject Coca-Cola funding or somehow end their sponsorship deals with Coke, including:
- Exercise is Medicine
- The Global Energy Balance Network (which collapsed after Coke pulled its funding post-NYT story)
- The University of Colorado (linked to the GEBN)
- The American College of Cardiology
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- The American Academy of Pediatrics
Coke made strange updates to the database a couple of times back in February, changing the dollar amounts of some donations, removing some, and adding others, all without explanation. We still don’t have answers regarding those strange updates, and now Coke has officially updated the database and added grants from the second half of 2015. Remember that before this update, the database covered grants made between January 1, 2010 and June 30, 2015. We should also mention that the fine print still says Coke’s database only covers that timeframe, but Sandy Douglas, the president of Coca-Cola North America, has let everyone know that the database now covers all of 2015. So whatever Coca-Cola employee is reading this, you might want to bring your fine print in line with what Mr. Douglas says.
The Russells’ blog is apparently the only outlet to notice this. The Associated Press article on Transparency update still mistakenly says that the Coca-Cola update covers “the same time period” as the previous version of the database.
You can see our catalogue of all 1,288 records that have appeared in Coke’s various versions of their database, and learn how they’ve changed in this spreadsheet. Here are some of the strangest and most concerning highlights from Coke’s newest “transparency” update:
- Four donations to the Canyon Ranch Institute, an organization that hosted a “2010 World Obesity Congress,” that total more than $500,000 did not exist in Coke’s original 9/22/15 database. Coke added those to their 2/4/16 update, deleted the records from their 2/9/16 update, and have now added them back again via the 3/22/16 update. Those aren’t the only donations that appear, disappear and then reappear again.
- Coke has modified six, or apparently only three donations to the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control. Coke included them in the original database, deleted them on 2/4/16, added them again on 2/9/16, and then deleted 3 of the 6, which were perhaps just double entries, again on 3/22/16.
Trying to figure out whether donations in Coke’s database are real can be a confusing mess.
- Coke included 22 donations from 2015 ranging from $2,500 to $125,000, all for a project labeled “Community grant in support of the beverage industry’s Balance Calories Initiative” in the new update. We don’t even need to tell you why this is disturbing anymore. See the video of the Coke-funded GEBN president we linked to above if you need to jog your memory.
- Coke added five donations to the Preventative Cardiovascular Nurses Association totaling almost $400,000 to the 2/4/16 version and then removed them on 2/9/16. We haven’t seen them or heard anything about those donations since, and they don’t appear in the newest 3/22/16 version.
- Coke has made extremely confusing and frequent changes to donations to the ACSM and related to Exercise is Medicine. At this point we’re not sure that even Coke could figure out which versions of these donations are correct. There are $600,000 worth of donations to promote EIM around the world that aren’t even pictured in the screenshot below. Coke added that $600,000 out of nowhere on 2/4/16 and deleted those records on 2/9/16. We haven’t seen or heard anything about those donations since then. Coke also just added two small travel grants to the ACSM from 2010 and 2012 in the new 3/22/16 version of the database even though this new version is supposed to be an update covering the latter half of 2015.
- Coke added a $550,000 2015 donation to the Calorie Control Council in the 2/4/15 version of the database, removed it on 2/9/15, and hasn’t released any information on it since then.
- Interestingly enough, Coke has repeatedly modified the records related to several of the organizations whose Coca-Cola partnerships have ended–including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American College of Cardiology–across the four versions of their database.
- Coke’s database used to show $272,900 worth of grants to Dr. John Sievenpiper, the Big Soda shill who you can see defending soda and dismissing its special link to obesity in “That Sugar Film.” Sievenpiper has also published work with Dr. Richard Kahn, the ABA’s “expert witness” in their case against the City of San Francisco who tells us that Froot Loops are healthy. Coke removed a $112,000 grant to Dr. Sievenpiper from the database entirely, and removed his name from another $80,000 grant so that you can’t find that grant by searching his name. Now when you search Sievenpiper’s name you see only $80,900 worth of grants connected to him instead of $272,900. Keep in mind that there are other grants to the University of Toronto where Sievenpiper works that aren’t explicitly connected to his name.
Coke also published an FAQ page with their new update that attempts to make some sense of this confusing mess and even answer some of the concerns we raised above. For example, the FAQ’s mention the double entry donations to the CDC Foundation that were deleted in the new update. Coke also says, essentially, that they made some mistakes and left some donations out in previous versions of the database to explain how donations like the 2010 and 2012 ACSM travel grants were added in an update that was supposed to be for the latter half of 2015. Perhaps that’s understandable–there’s so much information here that we’ve found it pretty confusing to work with at times. However, it just seems extremely convenient that so many of the “mistakes” are related to Coke’s energy balance agenda when those same grants make up a relatively small portion of the entire database.
Coke also tries to answer questions like, “How can you be part of the solution to obesity if you are part of the problem?” on their FAQ page. They answer saying, among other things, that Coke Mini offers smaller portions and they sell products like water too. While cheat meals are pretty common in the CrossFit community, not everyone outside of CrossFit even has the knowledge about nutrition to limit themselves to just one Coke Mini and only “open a little happiness/obesity.” Remember, soda is addictive, and Reebok’s survey found that 30 percent of people would rather lose a toe or even their job than give up soda. It’s not Coke’s job to educate the entire planet on nutrition, but until Coke stops corrupting health science and misleading the public on the subject of nutrition, efforts like Coke Mini amount to little more than meaningless PR stunts.
Coke’s FAQ page recommends you send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following Coke’s transparency efforts has become more confusing than ever. We would laud true transparency and a commitment to ending their corruption of the health sciences to sell product. Unfortunately, all the Coca-Cola Company has done so far is fake transparency in an attempt to run damage control and deceive the public so that they don’t continue to lose soda revenue in a world that’s becoming increasingly more informed about health and chronic disease.