The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo are giant multinational corporations. They’re big businesses with the primary purpose of making money. But though we understand these companies don’t exist to hand out hugs and puppies, it’s still not a particularly good look when they appear to try to influence policy in a way that may not be in the best interest of their consumers.
In a recently published paper entitled “Sponsorship of National Health Organizations by Two Major Soda Companies,” two researchers at Boston University decided to follow the money trail from Coke and Pepsi to investigate “the nature, extent, and implications of soda company sponsorship of U.S. health and medical organizations, as well as corporate lobbying expenditures on soda- or nutrition-related public health legislation from 2011 to 2015.” As the duo points out, “Although corporate sponsorship by tobacco and alcohol companies has been studied extensively, there has been no systematic attempt to catalog sponsorship activities of soda companies.” Those are two industries soda companies certainly don’t want to be lumped in with, but with the current fervor over the potential negative health effects of soda, the comparison may be more apt than ever.
As you can probably guess, the research team’s findings don’t reflect too positively on the two soda giants. During the five year period in question, “the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo were found to sponsor a total of 96 national health organizations, including many medical and public health institutions whose specific missions include fighting the obesity epidemic.” Among those are “two diabetes organizations, the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which is surprising, given the established link between diabetes and soda consumption.” On top of that, “these two soda companies lobbied against 29 public health bills intended to reduce soda consumption or improve nutrition.”
In the end, the study finds the level of sponsorship of health and medical organizations by Coca-Cola and Pepsi problematic. “Such sponsorships are likely to serve marketing functions, such as to dampen health groups’ support of legislation that would reduce soda consumption and improve soda companies’ public image,” the authors write. “It is recommended that organizations find alternative sources of revenue in order to stop indirectly and inadvertently increasing soda consumption and causing substantial harm to Americans.”
It’s a pretty harsh conclusion. Maybe it’s not too late for Coke and Pepsi to reconsider that handing out hugs and puppies thing.