Excerpts from emails between Coke executives and leaders of anti-obesity group

A non-profit founded to fight obesity says the $1.5 million it received from Coke doesn’t influence its work. But emails obtained by The Associated Press show the company was instrumental in shaping the group.

Below are excerpts of emails between the group’s leaders and Coke executives starting in late 2012, when the network was still just an idea.

Rhona Applebaum is Coke’s chief health and science officer; the company says it has accepted her retirement. James Hill is the group’s president and a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. John Peters is also a professor at the university and a leader of the group.


Oct. 16, 2012

In an email whose subject line is “Ready for a stimulus pkg?” Applebaum tells Hill she has “sold the concept” of what would become the Global Energy Balance Network. She later informs him those involved will need to be open about collaboration with private industry.

“That is non-negotiable,” she says.

Nov. 8, 2012

Applebaum emails Hill and Peters about media questions over a Coke-funded study they are working on. Attached is an internal company document with talking points to address such matters.

“Also — if you would like media training let me know. All our folks receive it,” she writes.

June 4, 2014

Hill emails a Coke executive saying the focus of the company’s research should be energy balance: “We have given you ideas here. We have also given you ideas for research projects that might be very specific to coke interests.”

Coke says the proposals were not related to the Global Energy Balance Network.

July 9, 2014

Applebaum emails the group with a “tweaked” proposal for the establishment of the network.

The proposal says the group will “inject sanity and reason” into the debate about obesity and become the go-to resource for media.

“Akin to a political campaign, we will develop, deploy and evolve a powerful and multi-faceted strategy to counter radical organizations and their proponents,” it says.

Aug. 30, 2014

Hill emails a Coke executive about a research proposal. “Here is my concept. I think it could provide a strong rationale for why a company selling sugar water SHOULD focus on promoting physical activity. This would be a very large and expensive study but could be a game changer. We need this study to be done.”

The executive says she will call him the following week to discuss.

Oct. 14, 2014

In emails about GEBN potentially partnering with others on a project, Applebaum writes: “There you go! Than (sic) the # of experts and reputable orgs is too large for any naysayers to cull the pack and attack.”

Oct. 18, 2014

Coke CEO Muhtar Kent emailed Applebaum and other executives for reasons he could give CBS This Morning host Charlie Rose to invite Hill on his show. Applebaum replies with Hill’s credentials, which do not mention his work with Coke.

Hill has not appeared on the show.

Nov. 9, 2014

Hill emails a Coke executive: “It is not fair that Coca-Cola is signalled 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.”

April 8, 2015

A Coke employee emails Hill and Peters asking them to sign a non-disclosure agreement before the company shares “some of the learnings we have received from some of our consumer testing to help inform” the group’s work.

Once signed, she says the company will “begin the flow of information” in preparation for an upcoming meeting.