The Associated Press NEW YORK (AP) – The tweet of a group that funds development in Latin America was straightforward: soft drinks do not offer beauty or joy, just too much sugar.
There was a problem for the organization. Coca-Cola was a funder.
The board of the Inter-American Development Bank told Coke that it did not know about the tweet and later invited the company to write a post explaining how the beverage giant was helping to fight obesity, according to an email from a Coca-Cola executive by the AP. through a request for public records.
The exchange offers another glimpse of the influence of the food industry on the formation of messages about their products. With obesity becoming a more pressing global problem, two reports in scientific journals call for policies that limit the influence of industry and revive the debate over what role food companies should play in public health efforts.
In the Lancet medical journal, a report says that skepticism about the motives of ultraprocessed food manufacturers is warranted, noting how sugar-sweet drink manufacturers have struggled with government efforts to reduce soft drink consumption. The report says that reducing industry influence in policy development will help governments address the interrelated problems of obesity, malnutrition and climate change.
A separate report in the Milbank Quarterly describes Coca-Cola's ties to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, partially depending on previously published emails obtained through record requests. In an exchange, a CDC employee tells a Coke executive that her colleague is interested in working at the liquor company and reviews her resume. A CDC representative said the agency did not comment on personal issues, but noted its resources on ethical issues for employees.
The Milbank report says that such exchanges underscore the need for greater transparency and conflict-of-interest guidelines in organizations involved with public health. He says that there is still relatively little knowledge about the extent of the influence of the food industry, but that there is growing understanding of such dynamics.
Gary Ruskin, one of the report's authors, said raising awareness is in part the result of the "enormous enormity of the obesity epidemic."
"We are beginning to deal with this in a serious way," said Ruskin, who is also a co-founder of US Right to Know, a defense group funded by the Organic Consumers Association and others.
Ruskin said that Coca-Cola in particular has been the target of many recent revelations because of the company's unusual grasp on regulatory and scientific issues. Earlier this month, a survey by a Harvard scholar showed how a group founded by a former Coca-Cola executive helped shape China's efforts to keep obesity under control.
Still, Coke is far from alone. Many other food companies finance studies that are supportive of their products and become part of the scientific literature. And last year, the University of California, San Francisco, released a file of food industry documents for researchers, including records detailing the role of the sugar industry in the formation of nutritional research.
Yoni Freedhoff, who teaches family medicine at the University of Ottawa, said public health food industry pledges should be viewed with caution given their financial drivers.
"It smokes and covers the industry to try and pretend:" Hey, we're on your team, "Freedhoff said.
Not everyone thinks that all ties in the industry should be discarded. Bill Dietz, one of the authors of the Lancet report and a researcher at George Washington University, cited the work of the Partnership for a Healthier America with food companies on public health commitments as a valuable effort.
"My concern is that this has become such a complicated issue that any relationship with the industry is discarded," said Dietz, who is on the Partnership for Healthier America board.
As for the tweet of the Inter-American Development Bank, a representative of the bank said the message was deleted because it included an image with brand names in violation of its policies. The representative said the Coke posting was posted on the bank's blog for disclosure and partners, and that the institution continued to promote discussions on the health implications of sugar consumption.