Between 2011 and 2015, 95 national health organizations accepted money from the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo or both companies, according to an internet and database analysis.
The American College of Cardiology (ACC), American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association and National Institutes for Health were among the organizations that the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo sponsored during that time period.
The Coca-Cola Company sponsored 95 national health organizations, while PepsiCo sponsored 13.
At the end of 2015, the ACC, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Family Physicians did not renew their contracts with Coca-Cola.
Researchers Daniel G. Aaron, BS, and Michael B. Siegel, MD, MPH, published their findings online Oct. 10 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“Although it seems the Coca-Cola Company may invest more than PepsiCo in sponsorships, this result is likely due to bias from increased availability of Coca-Cola sponsorship records,” the researchers wrote. “These records were released as part of the transparency initiative, which the Coca-Cola Company started after it was rebuked for covertly sponsoring the Global Energy Balance Network, a group run through the University of Colorado School of Medicine that downplayed diet and highlighted exercise as the solution to obesity.”
In 2012, 35 percent of adults in the U.S. were obese and 69 percent were overweight or obese, according to the researchers. They also mentioned that the U.S. spent $190 million in 2012 treating conditions tied to obesity. In addition, they noted that approximately half of Americans drink sugary drinks on a daily basis and that soda consumption caused 20 percent of the weight gain in the U.S. between 1977 and 2007.
Aaron and Siegel found that 83 organizations accepted money from Coca-Cola, one accepted money from PepsiCo and 12 accepted money from both companies.
Of the 96 organizations, there were 63 public health organizations, 19 medical organizations, seven health foundations, five government organizations and two food supply groups.
The researchers noted that the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo or their lobbying arms publicly supported or opposed 29 bills or proposed regulations between 2011 and 2015. In all but one of the cases, the soda companies’ positions were antagonistic to public health, according to the researchers.
The only exception occurred in 2014 when the companies supported federal restrictions on marketing of soda and junk food in schools. However, Aaron and Siegel mentioned that the proposed legislation allowed companies to still market Diet Coke and other products in schools. The rules also allowed them to continue to advertise on scoreboards for an indefinite amount of time.
Of the 29 bills, 12 were opposed by the Coca-Cola Company, eight were opposed by PepsiCo, 19 were opposed by the American Beverage Association and six were opposed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Aaron and Siegel said that Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo fund the American Beverage Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
Between 2011 and 2014, the Coca-Cola Company spent an average of more than $6 million per year, PepsiCo spent more than $3 million per year and the American Beverage Association spent more than $1 million per year.
The researchers said the main limitation of the study was that PepsiCo does not make its sponsorship data publicly available. They also did not include other soda companies or state- or city-based health organizations. Thus, they said the study underestimates the number of health organizations that soda companies sponsor.
“This study has found extensive sponsorship of national health organizations by soda companies,” the researchers wrote. “Such sponsorships are likely to serve marketing functions, such as to dampen health groups’ support of legislation that would reduce soda consumption and improve soda companies’ public image. It is recommended that organizations find alternative sources of revenue in order to stop indirectly and inadvertently increasing soda consumption and causing substantial harm to Americans.”