The Global Energy Balance Network, GEBN, an obesity research group, faced a lot of flack this summer when the New York Times reported on its deep financial ties with Coca Cola. The Times explained that the soda purveyor had given the group $1.5 million in seed money. The group claimed that its message—that exercising is a better way to lose weight than, say, drinking less Coke—was not influenced by their wealthy backers.
That shoddy narrative was made all the worse earlier this month, when The Associated Press exposed emails between Coke executives and members of the GEBN team, in which the soda maker likened the research group to "a political campaign." The exchanges showed a troubling, cushy relationship, where researchers told the brand how they hoped to change its image. GEBN's president wrote to Coke, “I want to help your company avoid the image of being a problem in peoples’ lives and back to being a company that brings important and fun things to them."
The AP previously reported that the University of Colorado—who was linked to GEBN by James Hill, a professor at the university's medical school and president of GEBN—returned $1 million to Coke earlier this month. Without that money, it seems, it's hard to keep such a sketchy research group afloat.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.