As I’ve reported in the past Coca-Cola has a long history of giving money to medical organizations and researchers. Now we know just how much. In response to a New York Times story this summer, Coke has disclosed details of its financial support to a great number and broad variety of health organizations and initiatives.
Over the past five years, it turns out, Coca-Cola gave more than $118 million to medical groups, researchers, and fitness programs. One of the largest recipients of Coke dollars was the American College of Cardiology, which received $3.1 million. Other groups who received significant support from the soda company include the American Academy of Family Physicians, which received $3.5 million, the American Academy of Pediatrics, which received nearly $3 million, the American Cancer Society, which received $2 million, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which received $1.7 million. The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health received more than $1.7 million from Coke. Much of this last expense went to support the “Heart Truth Red Dress Fashion Show,” and this allowed the company to display a red dress on cans of Diet Coke.
The Times quoted Marion Nestle, a well-known nutritionist who has been highly critical of the food industry: “What I find most remarkable about this list is its length and comprehensiveness. No organization, no matter how small, goes unfunded. Any scientist or dietitian who is willing to take Coca-Cola funding gets it.”
The new revelations from Coke are only the latest– and largest– examples of a very significant and troubling trend. As I’ve previously reported, large food and beverage companies have been insinuating their way into the healthcare discussion for many years. For instance, until he became the new president of the Institute of Medicine, cardiologist Victor Dzau, had served on the Pepsico Board of Directors while he was the chancellor for health affairs at Duke University and the CEO of the Duke University Health System. In 2012 Steven Blair, a prominent obesity researcher, and William Zoghbi, the then president of the American College of Cardiology, were chosen by Coke to be Olympic torch-bearers. In addition, the American Heart Association has struck deals with, among others, Cheetos and Subway.
Original illustration by Max Husten