Coca-Cola Paid $550K Directly To Head Of Pro-Soda, Anti-Obesity Group

In addition to the funding that Coca-Cola provided to the now-defunct Global Energy Balance Network — an anti-obesity organization with a decidedly pro-soda bent — the cola giant also paid $550,000 directly to the GEBN president.

The Denver Post reports that, starting in 2010, Coca-Cola began paying money to James Hill, director of the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, and eventual GEBN president.

A rep for the company tells the Post the money paid to Hill was for work he did “prior to the establishment of Global Energy Balance Network. These funds paid for honoraria, travel, education activities and research on weight management.”

Hill saw the world — Mexico, Grenada, England, Australia, and New Zealand — on Coke’s dime. He also asked a company exec — the same VP who would eventually push through the GEBN funding — to help him find a job at Coca-Cola for his son.

In response to the Post’s report, Hill contends that he properly reported his Coke-funded trips to the school and that they helped “to present research to other scientists and to encourage physical activity and responsible eating habits.”

However, the validity of Hill’s message — which stresses the importance of exercise and downplays the role of sugary drinks and food in the obesity epidemic — has been called into question because of the role that Coca-Cola played in backing his work.

Back in 2009, the Coca-Cola VP behind GEBN (who has since resigned) wrote in an email that Hill would be “willing to do exercise and energy balance — focusing on why it is critical for maintaining a healthy weight.”

In a 2014 email, Hill wrote that “It is not fair that Coca-Cola is signaled [sic] out as the #1 villain in the obesity world, but that is the situation and makes this your issue whether you like it or not. 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.”

Earlier this year it was revealed that Coke had provided more than $1 million to the University of Colorado Foundation “for the purposes of funding” the GEBN.

That was a case of the school and the soda behemoth attempting to have it both ways. The money from Coke was categorized as an “unrestricted monetary gift,” as opposed to direct funding for research. State law protects the identity of those who donate gifts.

At the same time, as subsequently revealed emails showed, Coca-Cola had not only provided the money expressly for the funding of GEBN, but that the company was also heavily involved in shaping the group’s message.

One email from a Coca-Cola exec likened GEBN to “a political campaign, we will develop, deploy and evolve a powerful and multi-faceted strategy to counter radical organizations and their proponents.”

On Nov. 30, weeks after the university gave back $1.1 million to Coca-Cola, GEBN disbanded, posting a notice to the website that Coca-Cola had registered on the group’s behalf.

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