American doctors' groups and prestigious health research institutions were among the top recipients of funding from Coca-Cola — the world's largest soda producer — over the last five years.
According to newly published data that covers 2010 to 2015, Coke gave the American Academy of Family Physicians $3.6 million, the American College of Cardiology $3.2 million, the American Academy of Pediatrics nearly $3 million, and Brigham and Women's Hospital $1.2 million.
Soda companies like Coca-Cola have been seen as major contributors to the obesity epidemic.
Coca-Cola published the new data this week as part of a transparency pledge that came in response to a New York Times investigation last month. In that report, journalist Anahad O'Connor found that Coca-Cola had been quietly funding researchers and organizations that diverted the conversation about obesity away from too many calories toward the notion that people simply aren't exercising enough. (That view is not shared by most health and obesity researchers.)
Coca-Cola gave hundreds of grants, totaling $118.6 million. Of that, $21.8 million went to scientific research and $96.8 million to support health and well-being partnerships.
Sandy Douglas, the president of Coca-Cola North America, said in a statement, "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."
Marion Nestle, a New York University food politics professor and the author of the new book Soda Politics, had a different view: "The funding buys brand loyalty, silences critics, heads off efforts to advise drinking less soda, and gains support for the companies when they need it."
Coke funded medical organizations, disease foundations, and athletic groups
The list of groups Coke funded is astonishing. Influential disease societies and foundations were also among the top recipients. For example, the American Cancer Society got $1.9 million from the soda maker, and the American Diabetic Association received $1.1 million.
The foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the charitable arm of a government organization, got Coke money, as did the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, and the University of South Carolina's South Carolina Research Foundation.
In addition to top medical organizations, Coke seemed to emphasize giving to athletic groups, parks, and community organizations. Some notable recipients include the National Recreation and Park Association ($5.9 million over the period), the Boys & Girls Clubs of America Triple Play Program ($5.6 million), and Girl Scouts of the USA ($1 million).
Explore the data yourself
We aggregated Coke's funding amounts by year into one total for 2010 to 2015. You can search and sort the list here to learn more: