A new report by Susan Greenhalgh in the Journal of Public Health Policy found that soda industry efforts to manipulate obesity science and policy in the US are well documented, yet little is known about whether the industry has pursued similar efforts abroad. In-depth research in China—analyses of interviews with prominent Chinese obesity experts, and of trends in obesity-related activities documented in newsletters of China’s lead organization on obesity, a branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a US-based, corporate-funded, global nonprofit strongly influenced by the Coca-Cola Company—showed that from 1999 to 2015, China’s obesity science and policy shifted markedly toward physical activity as Coca-Cola’s influence in China increased. This shift aligned with Coca-Cola’s message that it is activity, not diet, that matters—a claim few public health scholars accept. These changes correlated with the growing importance of Coca-Cola’s funding, ideas, and affiliated researchers via ILSI-China. In putting its massive resources behind only one side of the science, and with no other parties sufficiently resourced to champion more balanced solutions that included regulation of the food industry, the company, working through ILSI, re-directed China’s chronic disease science, potentially compromising the public’s health.
Statements on conflicts of interest provide important information for readers of scientific papers, write David Stuckler, Gary Ruskin and Martin McKee in the Journal of Public Health Policy in a case study of emails exchanged between Coca-Cola and the principal investigators of the International Study of Childhood Obesity, Lifestyle and the Environment. There is now compelling evidence from several fields that papers reporting funding from organizations that have an interest in the results often generate different findings from those that do not report such funding. The authors describe the findings of an analysis of correspondence between representatives of a major soft drinks company and scientists researching childhood obesity. Although the studies report no influence by the funder, the correspondence describes detailed exchanges on the study design, presentation of results and acknowledgement of funding. This raises important questions about the meaning of standard statements on conflicts of interest.