Coca-Cola's chief scientist and health officer Rhona Applebaum steps down from her post amid scrutiny the company received after funding a research on obesity to divert the blame to sedentary lifestyle.
In August, controversy swirled over Coca-Cola funding a research to shift the blame for poor health from excessive caloric intake to a lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle. Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) is a non-profit foundation consisting of university professors originally established to combat obesity through evidence-based studies and research.
Apparently, the giant beverage company funded the group with $1.5 million to support the research, $1 million of which went to the University of Colorado School of Medicine where GEBN president, James O. Hill, is a professor. $500,000 was given to the University of South Carolina where one of the leaders was part of.
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola launched a website to explain its side in the controversy. It said that its research funding through the years shows their commitment to curb obesity.
"Our engagement and financial support of these well-respected experts, institutions and organizations were made with the best of intentions - to inform our business, support our local communities and support solutions to the public health issues facing people across the United States and around the world," Sandy Douglas, President of Coca-Cola, North America wrote in his letter to the public.
However, newly uncovered emails show that the research done by GEBN were influenced by Coca-Cola. In fact, the emails between James Hill, GEBN president and University of Colorado professor and Rhona Applebaum, chief health and science officer for Coca-Cola, show that the research funding aims to stress the importance of diet and exercise and change Coke's image of being a health hazard.
On Nov. 6, the University of Colorado School of Medicine announced that they are giving back the $1 million they received from Coca-Cola while the University of South Carolina says that they are keeping their part since there was no misuse of funds.
Email exchanges between the two persons involved messages revealing how major decisions by GEBN was decided or influenced by Applebaum. Discussions about the logo of the group, approval or disapproval of health articles and even strategies "to counter radical organizations and their proponents" were also unveiled.
The beverage company issued a statement through its CEO, Muhtar Kent. The company cut all ties with GEBN and accepted the retirement of Applebaum.
"It has become clear to us that there was not a sufficient level of transparency with regard to the company's involvement with the Global Energy Balance Network. Clearly, we have more work to do to reflect the values of this great company in all that we do," said Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola.