Exploring Coca-Cola’s role in obesity strategy in China, elsewhere

Written By Claire C

In this article, Harvard researcher Susan Greenhalgh discussed her report analyzing how the Coca-Cola company shaped health science and policy in China.  

A Brief Summary:

What were they interested in? The researchers were interested in the role of the Coca-Cola company in obesity science and policy solutions in China.  

What did they do? Greenhalgh worked to unpack the inner workings of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI).  This organization was responsible for promoting many of the policies that Coca-Cola considered beneficial, regardless of said policies’ effect on health.   

What did they find out? Greenhalgh found that Coca-Cola had successfully used the ILSI to incorporate their own industry-funded science into public policy.  

What direction could be next? This study brings transparency surrounding many issues with food policy and science that have influenced our handling of the obesity epidemic for years.  These findings will hopefully bring about change in encouraging a new mindset focused on solutions based on actual science rather than science encouraged by Coca-Cola.  

Coca-Cola’s Efforts:

  • Coca-Cola has been heavily involved in campaigns to distort the science of obesity
  • Wanted to make it seem like activity (rather than diet) was the main solution for the obesity epidemic
    • Known as the “exercise-first” approach
    • Was embedded in China’s obesity science and policy
  • Did this because they were considered about threats of soda taxes and government restrictions on marketing 

Greenhalgh’s Coca-Cola Report:

  • Analyzed the scale as to which Coca-Cola impacted food policy and discussed the inner workings of the organizations involved 
  • The main organization they focused on was the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) which was considered the chief scientific nonprofit of the processed food and drinks industry
  • Then showed how Coca-Cola and other companies used the ILSI to promote an approach to obesity that prioritized exercise over dietary changes 
    • Coca-Cola specifically promoted the idea of “energy-balance science”
    • This means that you can eat as many calories you want as long as you burn them off with physical activity 

The Continued Role of Coca-Cola’s Impact:

  • The exercise-first approach promoted by Coca-Cola and the ILSI is still prevalent in China to this day
  • Despite countless findings disputing this method, no action has been taken to develop a better solution to deal with the obesity epidemic 

More Fasting Flamingo Resources You May Enjoy:

  • Dietary Fat, McDonald’s French Fries, and Science Evolving
    • Gary Taubes and Malcolm Gladwell dive deep into dietary fat and the poor-quality science that led to the decline in Gladwell’s favorite order at McDonald’s.
  • How Fasting Can Help You Lose Weight, Live Longer, and Think Clearer
    • In this video, Tom Bilyeu compiles important moments from his interviews with 6 fasting experts.  Throughout these discussions, the experts cover everything from the benefits of fasting to the safety considerations fasters should make.  
  • Eat, Fast, Live Longer
    • In this BBC documentary, journalist Michael Mosley searches for the key to increasing his lifespan through his diet.  After failing to reach his goals using traditional methods of staying healthy, he analyzes various diets meant to improve longevity before he discovers the powers of intermittent fasting.
  • Do People Regret Their Unhealthy Behaviors?
    • This article by Louise Lee discusses some of the psychology behind guilt related to unhealthy behaviors. It specifically analyzes current research regarding the role of regret in dietary choices. 

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