Remember the “landmark” research study that claimed diet drinks are better than water at helping people lose weight because they do not increase appetite? Well, as it turns out, a food industry task force — which includes Pepsi Co. and Coca-Cola as its members — allegedly funded the whole thing.
The study, published last November in the International Journal of Obesity, stated that health conscious people should think about switching from sugary drinks to diet beverages, and stood out as a rare bit of positive publicity for the soft drink industry.
However, in the most convenient of ways, the scientific review by Peter Rogers, a professor of biological psychology at Bristol University, failed to mention something extremely important about ILSI Europe — the institute that backed the research.
Apparently, not only are Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co. members of the research consortium, they also have representatives on the eating behavior and energy balance task force. Moreover, they reportedly even gave some of the study authors a fee of around £750 each.
“To suggest that diet drinks are more healthy that drinking water is laughable unscientific nonsense,” cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, advisor to the National Obesity Forum on the United Kingdom, told The Independent. “If you want good science, you cannot allow corporate sponsorship of research.”
Corporate involvement in scientific research is not a surprising phenomenon, but Coca-Cola’s recent involvement in similar ventures has made it all the more controversial.
Just last year, the beverage giant reportedly donated millions of dollars to a nonprofit group, named Global Energy Balance Network, which argued that weight-conscious people should pay more attention to exercise and less attention to their diet. It was later revealed that the company’s involvement in the scientific research went way beyond the GEBN. Apparently, the corporate giant had also paid $550,000 to professor James Hill, a nutrition expert at the University of Colorado.
Coca-Cola and other beverage companies’ motive here is to gather more profits by providing their consumers false information. However, is it ethically correct to earn more by risking the health of unsuspecting public?
Of course not.
“This research was published in the International Journal of Obesity, a peer-reviewed journal, which means the data and conclusions have been scrutinized by other scientists,” a spokesperson for the University of Bristol said in a statement. “We therefore stand by the findings. It was funded by a range of bodies, including the NHS and European Union, as well as ILSI Europe.”
Meanwhile, another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition made similar claims about the so-called positive effects of diet beverages not too long ago.
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