Obesity is a scourge around the world. Previously confined to developed countries, globalization has spilled over the globe, as data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show, stubbornly: overweight has tripled since 1975; by 2016, there were more than 1.9 billion overweight people in the world, of which 650 million were directly obese; 39% of adults weigh more than they should and the problem – even more worrying – is growing in children.
Science has been trying for years to contain this scourge, which has proved to be a difficult task. However, there are two trends to address this problem from the point of view of public health: what promote exercise and active life and the one who stands dietary restrictionsthat is, policies aimed at people who consume fewer calories or move away from healthier foods. WHO is clear that the second is the most effective and places as exemplary measures in this regard the increase in taxes on sugary drinks or the ban on advertising of unhealthy food for children.
A study published on Wednesday The BMJ today launches a serious indictment against one of the world's leading manufacturers of sugary soft drinks, the multinational Coca-Cola, which is linked to increased obesity in the Asian country through promotion of less effective public health policies to prevent it, those based on the promotion of exercise.
According to researchers at Harvard University, the company would have been able to influence the development of such policies a complex financial and institutional network. At the center of the plot is an institution called the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) -China which, according to the authors, is the Chinese brand of the International Life Sciences Institute, which created a Coca-Cola executive -Alex Malaspina- 40 years ago, although it is now an independent body.
A health promotion entity in the spotlight
ILSI-China is hosted, according to the authors, at the Asian Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is seen in the country as "a bridge between government, academic institutions and industry" whose mission is to provide the latest scientific information to make policy decisions about nutrition, food security, and control and prevention of chronic diseases – many associated with obesity.
However, research by Susan Greenhalgh, John King, and Wilma Cannon showed that, between 1999 and 2015, ILSI-China's activities shifted from focusing on nutrition to focusing on physical activity, a position that coincides with that adopted in the early 2000s by Coca-Cola. "Coca-Cola has promoted the message that all beverages and meals are part of a healthy diet to prevent obesity, what matters is how much you move," they write. The BMJ.
The study lists the different health research and promotion activities of ILSI-China and highlights its links with Coca-Cola, although it recognizes that the entity is financed by several companies, in addition to the leader in soft drinks: most not associated with healthy products such as McDonalds, Pepsi and Nestle.
Of course, they say that many of the foreign researchers invited by the institute to different events had "financial ties to Coca-Cola" and cited some specific names.
For the signatories of the research, this entire network influenced an increase in obesity in the Asian country, from 20.5% in 1991 to 42.3% in just 20 years. They also point out that China is for Coca-Cola "its third volume market," which, in its view, "causes the size and consequences of the country's obesity epidemic to continue to worsen."
The reaction of the accused & # 39;
Coca-Cola responded in a statement to the accusations. In the text, the company states that it recognizes that "too much sugar is not good for anyone"and who support the health authorities' recommendations that people limit their added sugar consumption to no more than 10% of total caloric intake.
In addition, they talk specifically about their situation in the Asian country, where, according to them, are committed to offering various drinks that fit the needs of consumers. "We played around 22 products with low or no sugar of 13 brands, "they point out.
Finally, they emphasize that since 2017 do not finance any research that is not financed by at least 50% by other entities alien to the brand.
For its part, the global ILSI recalls that its "mandatory" policies require that "a minimum of three companies" base any project, to "ensure that no company dominates the research agenda"
Of course, they also acknowledge that they do not claim to "have been perfect in their 40-year history" and that there have been "bumps on the road". Without quoting Coca-Cola at any time, the entity makes clear that many of the experts cited in the article in the English magazine "they no longer work in ILSI"