Coca-Cola teams with nonprofit for controversial message

Coca-Cola, the largest soft-drink maker in the world, is throwing its support and money behind a new nonprofit that insists regular exercise is much more important than taking in fewer calories to lose weight, according to The New York Times.

The beverage manufacturer gave $1.5 million to start the Global Energy Balance Network last year, an organization headed by three prominent scientists who contend working out is a more effective way to lose weight than dieting, the Times reported.

Competing evidence and opinions
The group's members told the Times that Coke does not have an influence on its work.

"Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, 'Oh they're eating too much, eating too much, eating too much' - blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on," Steven N. Blair, the nonprofit's vice president and an exercise science professor at the University of South Carolina, said in video. "And there's really virtually no compelling evidence that that in fact is the cause. Those of us interested in science, public health, medicine, we have to learn how to get the right information out there."

However, the nonprofit's stance on weight loss goes against that of other health experts who contend that taking in far fewer calories is more key to losing and keeping off the pounds than consuming high caloric food and drink and burning it off through exercise. 

Charitable giving or influencing?
According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Coke regularly donates millions to charities and organizations, giving $20 million to the World Wildlife Fund to conserve rivers across the globe in 2007. It also supports exercise initiatives, giving $3 million to the city of Chicago to establish community gyms when the city's government proposed a tax on soda, the Times reported.

While transparency and disclosure of funding is needed in scientific studies, Martin Binks, a nutrition science professor at Texas Tech University, said a nonprofit or foundation's study shouldn't be discounted solely because a corporation supported it financially. 

"Discussions about the merit and objectivity of the underlying science frequently take a back seat to ad hominem attacks on researchers or accusations of malicious corporate intent in the absence of any objective scientific appraisal of the research," Binks wrote in an editorial featured in the International Journal of Obesity.

Publicly-funded studies have similar risks to being biased, Binks noted, adding that someone in his field might provide a more favorable opinion of foods produced with government subsidies.

Whether there's an agenda or not behind giving to a nonprofit, corporations should continue to donate to nonprofits and foundations, Stefanie Garden wrote in Inside Philanthropy, but their giving needs to be scrutinized.

In the meantime, nonprofits who receive funding from corporate entities should ensure such donations do not interfere with their mission or the public trust of other potential givers.

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