In 2014, Coca-Cola donated upwards of two million dollars to start a nonprofit research group, the Global Energy Balance Network, to promote research that suggests obesity stems primarily from a lack of exercise rather than poor diet. The organization endorses the idea that Americans are too focused on diet and not focused enough on exercise—at a time when most major cities are trying to push some kind of legislation that taxes, reduces, or otherwise curbs consumption of sugary beverages.
Health experts, not surprisingly, are critical of Coca-Cola’s “scientific” research. The company seeks to make the country’s obesity epidemic chiefly a problem of lack of exercise. Coca-Cola argues that good health comes from a balance of smart diet and physical activity, seeking to remove blame from soda. Marion Nestle, author of Soda Politics, spoke out against Coca-Cola’s actions, arguing that the GEBN is “nothing but a front group for Coca-Cola. [Their] agenda here is very clear: get these researchers to confuse the science and deflect attention from dietary intake.”
Coca-Cola has said that it prefers to work with companies that share their own beliefs and values—in this case, that are willing to perform research that emphasizes the necessity of exercise while removing focus on diet alone. But weight loss proves incredibly difficult when a person only makes changes to their exercise regimen rather than their diet: a study by Obesity showed that overweight adults who were put on thorough exercise plans with instructions not to change their diets barely lost any weight at all. Because Coca-Cola is sponsoring GEBN’s research, it is hardly unexpected that the nonprofit’s findings differ from long-held beliefs about how diet and exercise affect the body. Exercise is an important component of leading a healthy life, but despite GEBN’s research, health experts still advise consumers to monitor consumption of unhealthy foods and to get at least 2.5 hours of exercise a week.