Leaked email exchange shows industry tactics to influence obesity policy

14 September 2017

Leaked email communication between former executives at multinational drinks giant Coca-Cola is evidence of attempts to influence public health policy for commercial gain, according to an analysis of the documents by Deakin University researchers.

The emails, written in 2015 and obtained under a freedom of information request, have been analysed in a paper published in the journal Critical Public Health today: "How food companies influence evidence and opinion - straight from the horse’s mouth".

Lead author Dr Gary Sacks, Senior Research Fellow at the Global Obesity Centre in Deakin's School of Health and Social Development, said the emails outlined a deliberate and coordinated approach to influence scientific evidence and expert opinion around health and nutrition.

"The tactics outlined in this communication between a former vice president of Global Scientific and Regulatory Affairs and former senior vice president at Coca-Cola represent a substantial risk to international efforts to address major public health issues like obesity," Dr Sacks said.

"Although companies that profit from the sale of unhealthy food have a role to play in obesity prevention efforts, they have a clear conflict of interest when it comes to the generation of evidence and government policy in the area."

Dr Sacks said the tactics discussed in the leaked emails were similar to those used by tobacco and alcohol companies, and included:

  • Influencing evidence - generating their own evidence relating to the causes of obesity, both through directly commissioned work and their influence on external organisations.
  • Positioning themselves in scientific and medical bodies - using their positions on influential scientific bodies and medical associations to direct debate and discussion towards issues of interest to the industry.
  • Developing relationships with policy-makers and opinion leaders - encouraging extensive collaboration with government and academia, andusing these contacts to guide public debate.

"The public health and medical community need to be aware that some within the food industry view them as tools through which they can overcome threats to their profits," Dr Sacks said.

"This paper highlights the importance of identifying and managing potential conflicts of interest for professional bodies, scientific societies and policy makers."

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Media release Faculty of Health, School of Health and Social Development Centre for Population Health Research (CPHR)

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