Paying for Expert Opinion: Dietitians Paid by Coke to Take Anti-Soda Tax Position
By Kurtis Bright
Coca-Cola Secretly Pays Low-Life Dietitians to Look the Other Way
Living in a state where a soda tax was on the ballot this last election? If so, did you happen to notice how many registered dietitians came out against the issue on Twitter and in letters to the editor in the weeks running up to November 8?
It has recently come to light that you may have Coca-Cola to thank for that.
Last year we learned that Coca-Cola, the world’s biggest producer of sugary soft drinks is in the habit of paying university researchers and health experts to downplay the dangers of drinking soda and instead try to force the focus onto getting more exercise and never mind about caloric intake. So it should come as no surprise that the corporation was at it again, muddying the waters by using secretly paid “expert opinion” to toe the corporate line on the soda tax issue.
The American Beverage Association--a big soda lobbying group--along with Coca-Cola was found to have--surprise surprise--resorted to sleazy tactics to get their message out.
Many of those dietitians who were “concerned” about the proposed soda taxes on the ballot in California and Boulder, Colorado among other places suddenly turned up on Twitter and in the pages of local newspapers in the weeks just before the election. But it turns out their concern may have been more with their own pocketbook than anything else.
An investigative reporter for Ninjas For Health grew suspicious when these tweets and letters to the editor started rolling out all at once, all of them repeating the industry talking points that a soda tax is a stealth grocery tax (it isn’t) and suggesting that reducing soda intake may not even help make people healthier (it does). The reporter discovered a nest of these sleazy dietitians who turned out to be on the payroll of Coca-Cola--and who are surely planning for a long and cozy afterlife in the darkest corners of hell, where they will be forced to swill gallons of Coke while strapped to chair a la Homer Simpson and the hellish donut machine.
Of course there is nothing illegal about paying people to say things for you, even things that are demonstrably false, and which those paid shills then tweet publicly or send to the letters to the editor section of newspapers.
The tricky part about this group of dietitians is that they have been less than candid about where their money comes from. The tweets they posted were purportedly the opinions of “health experts” who are simply weighing in on a public controversy as concerned public citizens. But as the NFH reporter said, shouldn’t they at least have to listed as “sponsored posts?”
The industry, as usual, has evaded any admission of responsibility for its huge part in the obesity and diabetes crisis. They’ve been trying to walk an ever-narrower line, for instance by using these dietitians to write blog posts downplaying the importance of avoiding sugar without going so far as to actually recommend drinking soda.
A recent AP story illustrated this nicely: when confronted with evidence of its PR campaign disguised as health advice, Coca-Cola acknowledged that they have been “...working with health experts on such social media efforts for several years.” But of course such an admission only came once they’d been caught with their hand in the cookie jar full of paid liars.
If a company finds the need to resort to tricks to promote its position, you can be sure it is a terrible position. Click this link for a list of shame naming the Coca-Cola-sponsored dietitians that have thus far been identified and samples of their posts.