According to a new study by two researchers from the University of Boston, almost 100 national health and medical companies, including the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, are being sponsored by Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo, and other soda production companies.
This means that the sugar industry currently has a large influence on health policies and standards, even though studies have proven that sugary drinks and refined sugar are linked to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Between 2011 and 2015 a total of 96 sponsorships were identified by the authors of the study, which included any group, organization or program that was associated with the health of the public.
These include: The American Heart Association, The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), The American Diabetes Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The soda companies also lobbied against 29 proposed health regulations during this time, which was aimed at reducing soda consumption for better health.
While Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo did not respond to a request to comment about the study, the American Beverage Association (ABA), which represents them, did:
“America’s beverage companies are engaged in public health issues because we, too, want a strong, healthy America. We have a long tradition of supporting community organizations across the country. As this report points out, some of these organizations focus on strengthening public health, which we are proud to support.”
The American Heart Association said: “We are leading efforts to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks. To achieve our goals, we must engage a wide variety of food and beverage companies to be part of the solution. As clearly evidenced by our work, under no circumstances does such occasional funding have any influence on our science and the public policy positions we advocate for.”
JDRF released a statement, saying that it supports research for Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease that is not influenced by diet or lifestyle choices.
The authors of the study, however, are surprised that ADA and JDRF were being sponsored by soda companies because the link between diabetes and soda consumption has clearly been established.
After heavy scrutiny, the ABA announced earlier this week that it would no longer be paying dieticians and health professionals to oppose soda taxes on social media, something which Coca-Cola has also said it would stop doing since last year.
Soda companies have been making legislative efforts to reduce soda consumption in recent years, such as implementing soda taxes and bans, but their influence over the public debate is still being closely monitored.
Medical students from the Boston University School of Medicine said that they didn’t expect to find such a large extent of sponsorships and were shocked at how often it is actually going on.
The current concern is that these companies use sponsorships to make positive health associations to their brands and that they could potentially silence any critics.