More Questionable Coke Dollars Were Flowing to Obesity Researchers

A new report reveals that a founder of the Global Energy Balance Network received more than half a million dollars.

Even with its $1 million grant returned and the nonprofit the money helped found, the Global Energy Balance Network, shuttered, the fallout over Coca-Cola funding scientific research that supports exercise over diet change as the best way to combat obesity continues. The Denver Post reported on Sunday that James Hill, a professor of nutrition at the University of Colorado who helped run GEBN, received $550,000 directly from Coke.

In addition to revealing the direct support offered to Hill, who was shown to have worked exceedingly closely with Coke officials in emails published by The Associated Press in November, the Post story offered further details on the questionable relationship between the corporation and the nonprofit it supported. Hill traveled around the world for speaking engagements paid for by Coke and turned to higher-ups at the company to get a job for one of his sons. In response to his query about a position related to international affairs or politics, Rhona Applebaum, Coke’s chief science officer at the time, responded by writing, “I will make this happen!”

The university’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, where Hill works, has received more than $50 million from other corporate sponsors over the past five years, though school officials pointed out to the Post that its federal funding far exceeds what it receives from private companies. But events hosted by the center suggest that the point of view of the research conducted there, and the way the findings are presented, support the perspectives of its corporate donors. In 2014, for example, a conference for journalists on obesity featured employees of both Coke and McDonald’s, as well as other speakers who vehemently argued against soda taxes and other public-health policy measures that would cut into the market of the company that was, in part, paying for the event.

Kristin Jones, a health reporter for Rocky Mountain PBS I-News who attended the conference, told the Post, “I wouldn’t have gone through a three-day conference on the science of obesity if I knew it was partly sponsored by Coca-Cola.”