Congresswomen Expose Coca-Cola's Efforts to Influence CDC Officials

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Congresswomen Expose Coca-Cola's Efforts to Influence CDC Officials

Coca-Cola and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are at the center of a request by two congresswomen over emails they claim show improper influence by the world's largest soft drink manufacturer.

Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) filed the request with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General this week, Salon reports.

“The emails show a troubling pattern of the company using access to high-level CDC officials to shape debates over public health policy directly involving the nutritional value of its products,” the letter states.

Nearly 300 pages of text from 86 emails were published in the health policy journal, Milbank Quarterly. The documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The congresswomen noted exchanges between Coca-Cola and the CDC that encourage the nation's leading health agency to accept self-funded studies by the soda brand on diet beverages and weight gain.

"The messaging coincides with the corporation’s mission to shift blame for the global obesity epidemic," Salon notes. "Despite evidence that diet, rather than physical activity, is the defining determiner of obesity, Coca-Cola has a vested interest in arguing the opposite for the sake of their profit margins. Their attempts to obfuscate are a common theme of these email exchanges."

The emails come after a study published in January in the Journal of Public Health Policy and The BMJ found Coca-Cola exerted manipulative efforts over Chinese public health policy as well.

“It is deeply concerning to see CDC engage with data coming from the company on a question so fundamental to its bottom line – especially when data show that outcomes from industry-sponsored research differ significantly from independent studies,” the congresswomen state.

Emails also show efforts by Coca-Cola executives to thwart findings by the World Health Organization that linked sugar-sweetened beverages to the global obesity epidemic. Alex Malaspina, former senior vice president of external affairs at Coca-Cola, sent emails to a high-ranking CDC director in an effort to find a "famous scientist" to visit the WHO offices and influence the organization's position on sugary soft drinks.

“Though we recognize the role of public-private partnerships in advancing the agency’s broad public health goals, this report demonstrates Coca-Cola’s conflicts of interest in engaging with CDC staff on nutrition policy,” the congresswomen say in their letter. “Given that decades of peer-reviewed research has established links between soft drink consumption and negative health outcomes like obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, it is clear that the Coca-Cola’s influence is inappropriate and must be probed further.”

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