The ACSM / Coca-Cola collaboration known as the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) has suffered several serious setbacks. The University of Colorado, home to GEBN co-founder James Hill, returned a $1 million grant to Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola Vice President Rhona Applebaum has resigned. Applebaum was Coca-Cola’s Chief Science and Health Officer. Coca-Cola won’t replace her. And now Coca-Cola has announced that it will not longer work with the GEBN.
To make matters worse, Candice Choi at the Associated Press has obtained internal emails between GEBN officials and Coca-Cola. While GEBN claimed that Coca-Cola didn’t influence the GEBN, these emails show that Ms. Applebaum had a significant role in directing the network. Choi discovered that, “Coke helped pick the group’s leaders, edited its mission statement and suggested articles and videos for its website.”
Will the GEBN Ever Come Clean?
Perhaps the GEBN’s only hope now is to come clean and apologize for misleading the public. Instead, the GEBN is doubling down on deception.
GEBN co-founder Gregory Hand is the Dean at the West Virginia University School of Public Health, and a Fellow of the ACSM. A Dominion Post article published on 11/26/2015, entitled “WVU research not connected to Coke funds” quotes Hand stating, “While I still am involved in discussions with the network about its future, there is no GEBN money at WVU.” Perhaps this is true, but one may hesitate to take the GEBN at its word.
Hand continued, stating that,
The only Coke funding that flows to WVU is a small subcontract with South Carolina for consultation and data analysis on the research projects that were funded by Coca-Cola.
It doesn’t take much digging to disprove the ACSM fellow’s assertion. Coca-Cola’s misnamed “Transparency” database shows three direct Coca-Cola donations to WVU. These donations do not mention the University of South Carolina, consultation, or data analysis:
Coca-Cola paid at least $24,000 to WVU in 2015. That includes one grant specifically to Hand’s school, the WVU College of Public Health. In his role as dean, did Hand simply not notice the Coca-Cola funding his school received this year?
As we’ve covered, Coca-Cola’s “Transparency” website only gives a glimpse at Coke’s academic influence. WVU exemplifies this; not listed on the Coca-Cola “Transparency” database is WVU’s “partnership” with Coca-Cola, continuous since 2002.
This pouring rights agreement gives Coca-Cola “exclusive availability for Coca-Cola products across all WVU’s campuses and athletic facilities.” In return Coca-Cola is paying “$50,000 to WVU over the next five years for a University sustainability program.” Furthermore, Coca-Cola is dedicating “$600,000 over the same time period to WVU’s general scholarship fund.”
With fewer than 15 minutes of research, we’ve discovered at least $664,000 in direct Coca-Cola grants to WVU. And none of this funding mentioned anything about the University of South Carolina. It remains unclear whether GEBN co-founder Gregory Hand deliberately misled the press about his school’s Coca-Cola funding, or if he was simply ignorant.