Coca-Cola's payments to British scientists revealed
Coca-Cola has spent £10m over five years to distance the link between high-sugar drinks and obesity, with a portion of the fund going directly to scientists that have at some point advised the government on health matters.
According to an investigation by The Times, the drinks giant has paid in excess of £350,000 to 27 British scientists, eight of whom advised the government on healthy eating initiatives.
Those understood to have received funding include Stuart Biddle who was chairman of a health department group on obesity in 2010; Alan Boobis, director of the toxicology unit, which is funded by Public Health England and the Department of Heath, in the faculty of medicine at Imperial College London. Ken Fox, who advised the government on obesity in 2009; Carrie Ruxton, now on the board of Food Standards Scotland; and Zoe Williams, a GP who was the spokesperson for the government's Change4Life physical activity campaign
On Coke's website the payments were listed as “professional fees” or travel expenses.
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Coke's practice of funding such organisations and individuals has been under increasing scrutiny in recent years. The revelation of its payment to government advisers comes just weeks after non-profit anti-obesity group Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) was forced to close down after its funding partner, Coca-Cola, admitted that it had not been transparent about its involvement.
Other organisations to have been supported by Coke include the British Nutrition Foundation, which has received £224,769 from the company as well as the National Obesity Forum (£67,300), ukactive (£80,000), and the Science Media Centre (£30,000).
Coca-Cola has said that it has spent £30m to help people reduce the calorie intake in their drinks through initiatives like the reformulation of its drinks. It has also ramped up its spend on marketing on lower calorie and low sugar options and during the Rugby World Cup used sugar free variant Coke Zero as its hero product.