MEDICAL: CONDITIONS: OBESITY :
PHYSICAL EXERCISE AND FITNESS :
UNITED STATES: CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL (CDC) :
CORPORATE SPONSORS AND FUNDING PROVIDERS: COCA COLA:
New C.D.C. Chief Saw Coca-Cola as Ally in Obesity Fight
New C.D.C. Chief Saw Coca-Cola as Ally in Obesity Fight
New York Times
April 17, 2013
When she was health commissioner of Georgia, the state with one of the
highest rates of child obesity, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald faced two enormous
challenges: How to get children to slim down and how to pay for it.
Her answer to the first was Power Up for 30, a program pushing schools to
give children 30 minutes more exercise each day, part of a statewide
initiative called Georgia Shape. The answer to the second was Coca-Cola,
the soft drink company and philanthropic powerhouse, which has paid for
almost the entire Power Up program.
Dr. Fitzgerald is now in the spotlight as the Trump administration's newly
appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
making her one of the nation's top public health officials. And she finds
herself facing a backlash from public health advocates for having accepted
$1 million to fight child obesity from a company experts say is a major
cause of it.
Her new position puts her at the helm of a federal agency that shook off
its ties to the soda giant, in 2013, after concluding Coke's mission was
at odds with its own. But Dr. Fitzgerald suggested in an email response to
questions from The New York Times this past week that she would consider
accepting Coke money for C.D.C. programs and would evaluate any proposal
through the agency's standard review process.
Georgia Shape was established by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2011, after the
legislature called for a statewide school fitness program, and was run by
Dr. Fitzgerald. In 2013, Dr. Fitzgerald started Power Up for 30 with a
million-dollar contribution from Coke. The money amounted to most of the
program's $1.2 million budget over the past four years.
Coke -- which, like the C.D.C., is based in Atlanta -- has also had two
employees on Georgia Shape's advisory board, in various years. One was
Rhona S. Applebaum, Coke's chief science and health officer. She left the
company in 2016 after The Times reported that she had helped orchestrate a
strategy of funding scientists who encouraged the public to focus on
exercise and worry less about how calories contribute to obesity.
Ben Sheidler, a Coke spokesman, said that someone from the Georgia
Department of Public Health had solicited the grant for Power Up for 30
from Coke's foundation, but that he did not know who it was.
The program emphasized Coke's longtime contention that exercise is the key
to weight loss. A search of the program's website turned up no mention of
the role of sugary drinks and sodas in weight gain. The company has spent
millions on studies that support exercise over reducing soda consumption,
and that, critics say, deflect attention from the role sugar-sweetened
beverages have played in the soaring rate of obesity and the spread of
Type 2 diabetes among children.
But numerous other studies, including research from the C.D.C., have come
to the conclusion that sugar-laden drinks are a major factor contributing
to obesity. The C.D.C.'s website notes: "Frequently drinking
sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with weight gain/obesity, Type 2
diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, nonalcoholic liver disease,
tooth decay and cavities, and gout, a type of arthritis."
In a local television interview in May 2013, announcing a $3.8 million
pledge from Coke, which would also be used to underwrite other
exercise-related health programs, Dr. Fitzgerald said Power Up for 30
would add exercise before, during and after school. Noting that Georgia
had moved up slightly from its position as having the second-most
out-of-shape children in the nation, Dr. Fitzgerald said, "Thirty minutes
of exercise will go a long way toward better health."
Some details of the relationship between Dr. Fitzgerald and Coke were
reported in earlier news accounts. After her new post was announced, U.S.
Right to Know, a nonprofit research group that focuses on transparency in
the food business, sent journalists links to the broadcast along with
emails between Dr. Fitzgerald and Coke officials.
Dr. Fitzgerald also said on the television show that Georgia Shape would
push children to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
"We're going to concentrate on what you should eat," she said, making no
recommendation for what children should not eat. But the major focus was
on increasing exercise, long a tenet of Coke's public relations efforts.
In fact, an essay on the topic by Dr. Fitzgerald is posted on Coke's
website. The title: "Solving Childhood Obesity Requires Movement."
The complete article may be read at the URL above.
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