The truth about Coca-Cola is coming out

  • Posted on: Sep 9 2015

By Harold Goldstein,  Executive Director, California Center for Public Health Advocacy, a Davis-based nonprofit.

You may have heard recently about Coca-Cola’s foray into the halls of scientific research. America’s once-loved — but increasingly maligned — corporation has taken a page out of Big Tobacco’s playbook by funding researchers to publish medical studies friendly to their bottom line.

With independent doctors, nutrition scientists and public health experts around the country agreeing that sugary drinks are a major and unique contributor to type II diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart disease, tooth decay and obesity, the New York Times has exposed that a Coca-Cola front group (the Global Energy Balance Network — sounds convincing, doesn’t it?) has spent nearly $4 million funding science to push the myth that liquid sugar is no different than any other product we consume.

So I was shocked to read a column by Froma Harrop in my hometown newspaper sticking up for Coke. Harrop suggests that Coke’s funding of research is equivalent to them “saying nice things about (their) products.”

Saying nice things about their products? They are not only saying Coke tastes great, they are going one step further by claiming that guzzling Coke does not uniquely contribute to weight gain.

Coca-Cola already spends $4 billion a year “Teaching the World to Sing” and trying to convince us to “Open Happiness.” That’s called marketing. But it has no place in scientific research. Creating bias in scientific literature is not just another acceptable marketing tool.

The American people don’t need Coke apologists spreading misinformation about the safety of these harmful products in the mainstream media either. Harrop suggests that the 16 teaspoons of sugar in every 20-ounce bottle of Coke is perfectly healthy, as evidenced by the fact that “Coca-Cola had been on grocery shelves for about a century before there was any ‘obesity epidemic.’ ”

She ignores the fact that consumption of sugary drinks — massive sodas, sports and energy drinks — has doubled in the past 30 years, just as obesity and diabetes rates have tripled, as well as that self-serve soda fountains have invaded fast food restaurants, Big Gulps are the lowest-cost beverage option at convenience stores and that what was once a special treat has become an everyday habit.

Sugary drinks have become pervasive, thanks to an incredibly successful and sophisticated business model first perfected by Big Tobacco. It’s unfortunate that model comes at such a high cost to our health.

You don’t need to go far to confirm the real science about the harm done by sugar-sweetened beverages. Just ask Kimber Stanhope, Ph.D., a nutritional biologist at UC Davis. She is one of the world’s leading experts on the subject. Her research has shown that after two weeks of daily consumption of liquid sugar, your LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) and your triglycerides go up 20 percent, increasing your risk of having a heart attack. Other research shows that drinking liquid sugar increases liver fat, which can lead to fatty liver disease and diabetes.

This means that, whether or not you walk the five miles you’ll need to burn off the calories in a bottle of Coke, drinking liquid sugar is damaging to your health. Whether you are overweight or rail-thin, all that liquid sugar still increases your risk for a heart attack.

Fifty years ago, America caught on to Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man, but only after being exposed to years of smoke and mirrors. We can now see the truth behind these deceptive tactics and can respond swiftly and accordingly with time-tested public health policies.

This article was first published in the Davis Enterprise newspaper on September 6, 2015.