Coca Cola Truck in Sanya, China

How Coke Took Over Health Policy in China

A new report in the BMJ tells us Coca Cola is controlling health policy in China – as it relates to physical activity and obesity. Harvard professor Susan Greenhalgh says:

The company has cleverly manoeuvered itself into a position of behind-the-scenes power that ensures that government policy to fight the growing obesity epidemic does not undermine its interests.

Promoting Physical Activity

Greenhalgh’s bottom line is simple. Coke made the Chinese health ministry neglect nutrition to promote physical activity. Things like promoting physical activity in school seem sinister when you realize that Coke is pulling the strings. In a press release, the BMJ explains:

Though the effect on official obesity policy cannot be precisely measured, she shows how China’s policies align well with Coke’s position of emphasising physical fitness over dietary restrictions.

Are they telling us that this report might have a bit of subjectivity embedded in it?

Making a Simple Problem Seem Complex

BMJ published an editorial alongside Greenhalgh’s report. Martin McKee decries the hidden power of corporations. Research intended to promote a particular point of view is a big problem, he says. McKee told the New York Times:

They often cherry pick data in ways that mislead while portraying these issues as so terribly complex that nothing can be done.

Chasing Villains

Clearly, big soda is the villain of the day for obesity. It used to be fast food and McDonald’s, but that’s faded a bit. McDonald’s dropped out of the argument and adopted a “stealth health” strategy. Less talk. More action.

Recently Coke has revised some of its responses to the blame that comes its way. For example, it has changed the way it funds research. It’s also working on taking sugar out of its products.

Maybe we’ll need to come up with a different villain eventually. But it would be even  better to come up with solutions that actually solve the problem.

Click here for Greenhalgh’s paper, here for the editorial, and here for BMJ’s press release. For more from the New York Times, click here.

Coca Cola Truck in Sanya, China; photograph © WabbitWanderer / flickr

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January 10, 2019

2 Responses to “How Coke Took Over Health Policy in China”

  1. January 11, 2019 at 4:28 am, Mary-Jo said:

    This article and press jumping on it is much more than just calling Coke and co out. Everyone doing research, collaborating on policy, proffering positions, and doing anything to try to get people to eat better, healthier, more correctly, etc. by including more of ‘this’, less of ‘that’ must be totally rattled. I laughed out loud when I read the first couple sentences of the last paragraph of the BMJ article. Even with all our regulatory bodies and ‘watchdogs’, can we, in the US, UK, and Europe really boast there is no corporate or industry influence in what and how we eat, and for that matter, address the obesity epidemic? Just sayin’

    • January 11, 2019 at 4:45 am, Ted said:

      I could not agree more, Mary-Jo. Thanks for sharing these excellent comments!