Is Coca-Cola Passing The Buck? Company Backs Study Blaming Obesity On Lack Of Exercise

In late July 2015, Coca-Cola touted a scientific study completed by the Global Energy Balance Network that claims exercise, rather than dietary changes combined with exercise, should be the focus of people trying to lose weight. Coca-Cola funds the Global Energy Balance Network, a relatively new organization that just came onto the scene. Mainstream health experts panned the study as misleading. The soft drink company tries to deflect the notion that sugary drinks, such as soda, play a role in the formation of type 2 diabetes and obesity, according to the New York Times.


Study Claims

The GEBN research tries to claim that physical activity counters bad dietary choices, even though evidence points to the minimal impact exercise has on weight loss. GEBN’s vice president and an exercise scientist, Steven N. Blair, blames the popular media and the scientific press for focusing too much on “fast food and sugary drinks” for America’s obesity epidemic; there’s “no compelling evidence” that bad food choices cause type 2 diabetes or obesity.

The Reality

Contrary to Coca-Cola’s claims, numerous studies show dietary changes could lead to more effective weight loss than increasing physical activity, notes IFL Science. In fact, it takes 30 minutes of jogging or swimming to burn 350 calories. Instead, eliminating two sugary drinks per day can reduce caloric intake by the same amount without the exercise.

Dieters should eliminate 500 calories from a daily diet to lose 1 pound of weight per week. Dr. Pieter Cohen of Harvard Medical School told Live Science it would be “much easier” to get rid of 500 calories in food rather than try to work it off, and he called GEBN’s claims “ridiculous.” Exercise alone can actually increase appetite, which may lead to people consuming even more calories than before.

Coca-Cola’s Involvement

Coca-Cola started GEBN in 2014 with a donation of $1.5 million. Two universities employ leaders of the organization: the University of South Carolina and the University of Colorado. Coca-Cola paid more than $4 million to fund projects run by Blair and by Gregory A. Hand, dean of the School of Public Health at West Virginia University. Blair’s research over the past three decades formed the basis of federal guidelines on physical activity.


The soft drink giant is not the only firm with ties to so-called “scientific” research. Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, Hershey’s and PepsiCo formed alliances with the American Society for Nutrition and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Why Now?

Coca-Cola’s profits have taken huge hits in the past two decades, even though the company remains one of the highest-grossing firms on the planet. Consumers continue to find alternatives to sodas as sales of full-calorie soft drinks have dropped by 25 percent over the past 20 years. Many consumers even shun diet sodas because of their detrimental health effects.


Article continues below

Our Featured Programs

See how we’re making a difference for People, Pets, and the Planet and how you can get involved!

Public health lawyer Michele Simon calls Coca-Cola’s move a “direct response” against the profits the company has lost, especially as municipalities look to limit the effects of sugary beverages on the populace. Perhaps the most damaging evidence against Coca-Cola’s current involvement in research stems from past studies. Findings published in the journal PLOS Medicine found that studies funded by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the American Beverage Industry found no link between sugary drinks and weight gain five times more often than studies by authors without conflicts of interest or direct financial gain from a certain industry. The best way for people to combat type 2 diabetes and obesity is to discuss options with their primary care physician and/or dietitian. Patients should develop a relevant diet plan based on science-backed evidence in medical literature not sponsored by soft drink companies.

Support Research

Fund Diabetes research and care at The Diabetes Site for free!