Controversial Nonprofit With Coke Ties Shuts Down

Global Energy Balance Network Had Come Under Fire

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Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

A nonprofit group with ties to Coca-Cola that had urged an increased emphasis on exercise rather than diet as a cure for the obesity epidemic has shut down. The organization, called the Global Energy Balance Network, stated on its web site this week that it is "discontinuing operations due to resource limitations."

The organization and Coca-Cola came under fire beginning in August after a critical report in The New York Times revealed that Coke provided financial and logistical support to the organization, "which promotes the argument that weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise."

The Times reported Tuesday on the disbandment of the Global Energy Balance Network. A Coca-Cola spokesman declined to comment to Ad Age about the disbandment. "We're focused on the way forward and evaluating our approach to obesity -- right now we are listening and learning from leading experts in the public health community, we have publicly disclosed our financial support of scientific research and community programming over the last five years, and we have acknowledged that we need to be even more transparent and a more credible partner. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we are determined to get this right."

The original media reports on the issue prompted Coke in September to publish a searchable list on its corporate web site of the scientific and health organizations Coke has provided money to in the past five years.

Scrutiny of the company continued last week after the Associated Press published emails it obtained showing tight ties between Coke and the Global Energy Balance Network. "Coke helped pick the group's leaders, edited its mission statement and suggested articles and videos for its website," the AP reported.

Coca-Cola Co. CEO Muhtar Kent responded to the AP in a statement saying "it has become clear to us that there was not a sufficient level of transparency with regard to the company's involvement with the Global Energy Balance Network." The company also told the AP that it had accepted the retirement of Chief Health and Science Officer Rhona Applebaum, who "initially managed the relationship with the group," the AP reported.

The Coke spokesman told Ad Age that Ms. Applebaum "made the decision to retire in October and it was announced to associates on November 4." She will not be replaced, he said, noting that "we are conducting an inside-out review on the way forward and will allocate the necessary resources to make this new approach a success."

Coke in recent years has sought to use some of its marketing to combat obesity concerns, which have contributed to soda sales declines. In 2013, for instance, the company ran a global campaign that encouraged exercise, while promoting a "calories in, calories out" message.

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