Soft drink giant Coca-Cola has apparently paid millions of pounds to British scientific research and others, to counter the claim that its drinks cause obesity.
More than a dozen scientists who have argued against the commonly accepted link between sugary drinks and obesity reportedly have a financial link to Coca-Cola. These scientists include government health advisers and others, according to The Times.
The British obesity epidemic, that kills up to 53,000 people and costs the NHS, £5.1bn (€6.9bn, $7.8bn) annually, has been linked to increased sugar consumption. Poor diet causes more diseases than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined, reported the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Initiatives by the company to counter the obesity claim have reportedly included the spending of millions to set up the European Hydration Institute that eventually recommended soft drinks of the sort that Coca-Cola sells and a £1m funding to a university whose professor advises on nutrition consumption to leading sports bodies. It has also funded/sponsored various British organisations such as UKActive, the British Nutrition Foundation, the University of Hull, Homerton University Hospital, the National Obesity Forum, the British Dietetic Association, Obesity Week 2013 and the UK Association for the Study of Obesity.
Spanish researchers in 2013 discovered that scientific papers on sugary drinks that were sponsored directly or indirectly by Coca-Cola were five times more likely to not find any links with obesity as compared to papers that were independently funded, the Times reported.
The government's rejection to calls for a sugar tax, despite support from the chief medical officer at the British Medical Association Dame Sally Davies and celebrities such as Jamie Oliver expose the scale of Coca-Cola's scientific funding, the report added.
"Coca-Cola is trying to manipulate not just public opinion but policy and political decisions. Its tactics echo those used by the tobacco and alcohol industries, which have also tried to influence the scientific process by funding apparently independent groups. It's a conflict of interest that flies in the face of good practice," according to Simon Capewell, a board member of the Faculty of Public Health.
However, Coca-Cola Great Britain said, "We rely on scientific research to make decisions about our products and ingredients and commission independent third parties to carry out this work."