Beverage Giants Drink Up Lobbying Success

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo donated to health groups but lobbied against public health initiatives

The Coca-Cola and PepsiCo beverage brands are big players in the soft drink market. Now it looks as though there's something going on behind the scenes.

A study from Boston University found that while the two beverage giants donated millions to prominent health groups over the past five years, they simultaneously spent millions to defeat public health legislation aimed at reducing soda intake.

“We wanted to look at what these companies really stand for,” study co-author Daniel Aaron said in a press release. “And it looks like they are not helping public health at all—in fact they’re opposing it almost across the board, which calls these sponsorships into question.”

Study authors Michael Siegel, MD, and Daniel Aaron reviewed and analyzed data from multiple public records including lobbying reports, medical literature, news releases, newspaper databases and information released by the beverage companies. This was the first comprehensive look at the beverage industry's overall strategy, which included the period from 2011 to 2015.

Dr. Siegel is an epidemiologist and professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and Aaron is a student at Boston University’s medical school.

Dr. Siegel and Aaron found that between them, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo sponsored 96 national health organizations. Many of these were public health or medical institutions with specific missions to fight the obesity epidemic.

The beverage companies provided funding–-in some cases millions of dollars--to the American Diabetes Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the American Society for Nutrition, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Obesity Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Coca-Cola sponsored more than 80 percent of the 96 organizations studied.

During the same period, Dr. Siegel and Aaron found that the two companies lobbied against 29 of 30 public health bills. The bills sought to improve nutrition or to reduce soda consumption.

The researchers found that in a number of cases, organizations that had accepted beverage company funding either did not support health initiatives or remained silent when the issues were discussed or presented to the public.

In related news this month, the World Health Organization strongly urged all countries to begin taxing sugary beverages heavily as increased costs typically drive down consumption.

The study was published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Study funding was provided by Babur K. Zhalique Scholarship in Non-Traditional Medicine through the Medical Student Summer Research Project program.

Neither author reported a conflict of interest.