Coke opens up on research in transparency bid

Coca-Cola, stung by suggestions it paid for research that shifts blame for the nation’s obesity epidemic on lack of exercise and not sugary drinks, says it will be more transparent in disclosing future well-being partnerships.

In a Thursday Wall Street Journal editorial, Coke CEO Muhtar Kent said the Atlanta beverage giant will list on its website what it’s doing to reduce calories and market responsibly, its health and well-being collaborations, and the research the company has funded in the past five years. The list will be updated every six months.

In addition, Coke will tap independent experts to help advise and provide governance on its academic research investments.

Coke’s move comes a little more than a week after a New York Times story questioned Coke’s ties to the Global Energy Balance Network, a group focusing on “the science of energy balance” to address obesity.

The group disputes whether sugary drinks and fast-food are a primary cause of rising obesity among Americans. Health advocates criticize the group, saying it suggests consumers can offset a bad diet with exercise.

“I am disappointed that some actions we have taken to fund scientific research and health and well-being programs have served only to create more confusion and mistrust, Kent wrote in Thursday’s editorial.

“We have read and reflected on the recent news stories and opinions, online conversations and questions from our own family and friends,” he said. “The characterization of our company does not reflect our intent or our values.”

The soft drink industry has been struggling to turn around sales of fizzy drinks like Coke and Diet Coke, whose volume have fallen from their 1990’s peak. Some of that falloff has been attributed to changing consumer attitudes about the impact of soft drinks on waistlines.

Coke said some of the information that will be listed on the website will focus on efforts to reduce consumption such as 7.5-ounce mini-cans, low- and no-calorie beverages, community grants for health and nutrition programs, and partnerships with groups such as the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

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