Coca-Cola, the largest manufacturer of sugary drinks in the world, is supporting a new scientific study conducted by a nonprofit group that stresses the importance of regular exercise in order to maintain a healthy body weight.

The soft drinks giant announced last year that it will provide $1.5 million worth of financial aid to a newly-established nonprofit organization known as the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN).

The financial support is meant to help the group in launching its "energy balance" campaign, which centers on the idea that the body weight of a person can be maintained by consuming foods and drinks with the same amount of calories that can be burned through various physical activities.

GEBN believes that in order for the person to lose or gain weight, he or she must tip the balance either toward consuming more calories or burning more of them.

Steven Blair, a GEBN member and exercise science professor at the University of South Carolina, said that while the media have blamed sugary drinks and fast foods for the epidemic of obesity, there is no evidence to support this assertion.

On its official website, the Global Energy Balance Network said that it does not deny the fact that regular exercise and a healthy diet do contribute to good health. The nonprofit organization, however, pointed to "strong evidence" that it is much easier for an individual to eat more calories and maintain an active lifestyle than to cut back on calories yet remain sedentary.

The assertion of GEBN is being met with criticisms from different health experts who disagree with the group's belief.

Dr. Pieter Cohen of the Harvard Medical School said that there is a significant amount of data available that proves from an individual perspective that the key to a successful weight loss is through a moderate reduction of calorie intake over time. He pointed out that the GEBN's suggestion that exercise is the solution to the issue of obesity is "ridiculous."

Cohen explained that exercise programs alone do not contribute much to weight loss. He said that this is because exercise often results in an increase in appetite, which could lead to people wanting to consume more food.

He added that exercise also leads to the development of more muscles, which are heavier compared to the tissues of fats.

Reducing the amount of calories in a diet is also viewed as an easier option for many people than engaging in exercise programs at high intensity levels that could burn enough calories to lose weight.

GEBN president James O. Hill, however, disputes the belief of many critics that the group promotes the idea that exercise is more important than a healthy diet in addressing the issue of obesity. He said that to believe this would be to oversimplify such a complex subject.

In a statement, Hill explained that diet is an important part of controlling weight as much as other factors, such as exercise, sleep and stress management. He said that the issue of obesity does not have a single cause, and that it cannot be resolved by simply isolating one factor from the others.

He added that studies conducted by the Global Energy Balance Network do not require Coca-Cola's pre-approval.

Photo: Emilio Labrador | Flickr 

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