Coca-Cola’s chief scientist and health officer, Rhona Applebaum, has left the company after helping set up a nonprofit research group tasked with downplaying the role of sugary drinks in the obesity epidemic.

In August, The New York Times reported that the company had financial ties to the research group — the Global Energy Balance Network, which is made up of university researchers, according to Ars Technica. Coca-Cola provided the group with $1.5 million in research funding, of which $1 million was designated to the University of Colorado, where group President James O. Hill is a professor. Further investigations found that the company was involved in selecting the group’s leaders, drafting its mission statement and designing its website. Arguing that Americans are too fixated on calories and diet, the research group instead emphasizes the benefits of exercise.

From website Ars Technica:

As chief scientist, Applebaum was thought to be central in orchestrating the group.

After the financial connection came to light and drew criticism, the University of Colorado returned the $1 million dollars to Coca-Cola. Still, both the company and researchers said that studies were not influenced by the interests of soda sales.

However, a series of e-mails between Hill and Coca-Cola executives, obtained by The Associated Press, weakens that argument.

In one e-mail from last November, Hill wrote to a top Coke executive: “I want to help your company avoid the image of being a problem in peoples’ [sic] lives and back to being a company that brings important and fun things to them.”

In another e-mail exchange, Applebaum informs Hill that researchers in the group need to be amenable to working with industry. “That is non-negotiable,” she wrote.

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola told The New York Times that Applebaum, aged 61, was retiring and had made the decision in October.

Read more here.

–Posted by Roisin Davis

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