University Med School Returns $1M Gift To Coca-Cola

Last year, Coca-Cola donated $1 million to the University of Colorado School of Medicine, with the money intended to fund a pro-soda advocacy group called the Global Energy Balance Network. After being criticized for accepting this money to push Coca-Cola’s business agenda, the university has now decided to return the funds.

“The University of Colorado School of Medicine has notified the Coca-Cola Co. that the University is returning contributions made by the company to support the establishment and operation of the Global Energy Balance Network,” reads a statement released over the weekend.

The Global Energy Balance Network’s co-founder and president is a professor at Colorado. The organization emphasized the importance of exercise and healthy eating in the fight against obesity, but what drew so much criticism for GEBN was its attempt to downplay any connection between sugary drinks and obesity.

The organization’s ethics and motives were questioned because of videos like the one below, featuring the GEBN vice president blaming the media for linking obesity to high-calorie foods, declaring that there “virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

The Colorado med school is maintaining that the core idea of GEBN is a valid one, but that the money is being returned to Coca-Cola because “the funding source has distracted attention from its worthwhile goal.”

Coca-Cola tells the NY Times that it will take the returned funds and donate them to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“While the network continues to support a vigorous scientific discussion of the contributions of dietary and physical activity behaviors to the obesity epidemic, it has become evident that the original vision for G.E.B.N. has not been realized,” reads a statement from the beverage biggie.

Dr. Michael Jacobson from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has been very critical of GEBN, supports the school’s decision and hopes others follow suit, but notes that Colorado, “probably returned the money out of embarrassment.”

The med school is just the latest organization to end a lucrative relationship with the sugary cash source. The American Academy of Pediatrics used $3 million from Coca-Cola to launch healthychildren.org, while the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics received $1.7 million from the company. Both groups have severed financial ties with Coke.