Associated Press NEW YORK (AP) – The tweet from the group that funds development in Latin America was direct: carbonated drinks offer no beauty or joy, just a lot of sugar.
There was one problem for the organization. Coca-Cola was a sponsor.
The management of the Inter-American Development Bank told Coke that it did not know about Twitter, and subsequently invited the company to write a blog post explaining how the beverage giant helps to fight obesity, according to an email to the head of Coke received by AP. through the request of public records.
The exchange gives another look at how the food industry generates messages about its products. Due to the fact that obesity is becoming an increasingly pressing global problem, two scientific journals call for policies to limit the impact of the industry and for renewing the debate on what role food companies should play in public health efforts.
The medical journal Lancet reports that skepticism about the motives of producers of ultra-processed foods is justified, noting how producers of sugary drinks fought against the efforts of the government to reduce soda consumption. The report says that reducing the impact of industry on policy development will help governments address the interrelated problems of obesity, malnutrition and climate change.
A separate report in the Milbank Quarterly describes Coke's links with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, partly based on previously published emails received on registration requests. In one exchange, a CDC official tells the head of Coca-Cola that her colleague is interested in working at a beverage company and handing in her resume. A CDC spokesman said the agency did not comment on personnel issues, but noted its ethical resources for staff.
The Milbank report states that such exchanges highlight the need for greater transparency and guidelines on conflict of interest in public health organizations. It says that so far relatively little is known about the degree of influence of the food industry, but the understanding of this dynamic is growing.
Gary Raskin, one of the authors of the report, said that raising awareness is in part the result of a “huge obesity epidemic”.
“We are just starting to seriously deal with this,” said Raskin, who is also a co-founder of the Right to Knowledge organization in the United States, a human rights group funded by the Organic Consumers Association and others.
Raskin said the stake, in particular, has been the subject of many recent discoveries due to the company's extraordinarily far-reaching connections in regulatory and scientific matters. Earlier this month, a Harvard scholar study revealed how the group, founded by a former Cox company leader, helped shape China’s obesity control efforts.
However, Coke is not alone. Many other food companies fund research that is conducive to their products and become part of the scientific literature. Last year, the University of California at San Francisco launched an archive of documents for the food industry for researchers, including reports detailing the role of the sugar industry in shaping nutrition research.
Yoni Friedhoff, a family medicine professor at the University of Ottawa, said that the food industry’s public commitment to health issues should be taken carefully, given its financial factors.
“It gives smoke and shelter for the industry to try and pretend,“ Hey, we are on your team, ”Friedhoff said.
Not everyone believes that all industry communication should be terminated. Bill Dietz, author of the Lancet report and researcher at George Washington University, called the Partnership's efforts for a healthier America with food companies in the area of public health commitments important efforts.
“I’m worried that this has become such a dangerous question that any relationship with the industry ends,” said Dietz, a member of the Partnership Council for a Healthier America.
Regarding the tweet of the Inter-American Development Bank, a representative of the bank said that the message was deleted because it contained an image with brand names in violation of its policies. The representative said that Coke's message was posted on the bank’s blog for explanatory work and partners, and that the institution continued to facilitate discussions on the health effects of sugar consumption.