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August 10 2015

Soda Companies Fund Important Research. New York Times Predictably Outraged

Julie Gunlock

I can’t decide what to name this new series I’m thinking about writing.

Should I title it the “Why Is This Shocking?” column? Or should I keep it simple by going with “Duh.” Or maybe a little more detail is necessary. How about the “Thanks Captain Obvious” column?

Well, while I ruminate over the title, let me begin this first piece by addressing a non-shocking fact that the New York Times just uncovered: Coca-Cola funds scientific research.

Yeah…this apparently shocking fact is causing quite a stir on the Internet today…this and yet another story about Donald Trump embarrassing himself…again.

According to the professionally outraged on the World Wide Web, billion dollar corporations have no business funding anything. Of course, it’s okay when these corporations fund cancer research, and research on other deadly diseases. No one seems to mind when corporations create whole Universities, or do other nice things like saving animals and marine life, helping orphans, feeding the hungry and helping with disaster relief and recovery, and helping women in developing nations.

I mean, that’s okay, right?

Yet, funding obesity research? Heck no! That is totally off limits to morality police on the Internet.

This seems very odd to me. I thought obesity was a crisis. At least that’s what the First Lady says and the many others who for years have ramped up the hysteria about the myth of an obesity epidemic sweeping America. These are the same folks who blame obesity on soda…that is, when they aren’t blaming snack foods, unhealthy school lunches, large plastic beverage containers, toys in happy meals, fast food restaurants and that 1,000-calorie plate of pasta that they sell at Cheesecake Factory, vending machines in schools, convenience stores and gas stations, grocery stores and of course, pizza. Did I miss anything?

The New York Times ran a story on the “scandal” with this headline: “Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets” but it might just have read “Coca-Cola Provides Grants to Scientists to Study Obesity” or "Coca-Cola Funds Important Research About How Sitting on Your Butt All Day Makes You Fat" or "Get Off the Couch, Stupid!" See how that works? Headline writing is fun!

The Times goes on to attack the work of the scientists who are studying how the lack of exercise impacts weight. According to the Times, exercise isn’t linked to obesity, the issue isn’t really all that important and no one should be funding studies in the area.

Perhaps the reason for the Times dismissal of this particular kind of research is because if obesity is caused by anything other than sucking on a Big Gulp everyday, it would distract from the message that soda is evil—which is the only message the press seems able to push.

A few years ago, my colleague, Lane Scott, wrote a fabulous a opinion article for the Pasadena Star News examining the connection between obesity and exercise and the trend of local politicians to call for soda taxes to fix the obesity "crisis." In her piece, she included some pretty grim statistics about how much activity kids get in the average day:

The National Wildlife Federation finds that on average, American boys and girls spend just four to seven minutes playing outside every day, compared to more than seven hours in front of an electronic screen.

A study released in April by the Archive of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that half of American preschoolers do not go outside on a daily basis. Think of that - Californians will move heaven and earth to pass laws mandating that chickens raised in our fair state have adequate room to breathe and grow in a healthy environment, yet half of our little guys are trapped inside all day long?

Only a generation ago, 75 percent of school-aged children played outside daily. A generation before that, parents thought nothing of sending their kids out unsupervised for long summer days to be welcomed home again only when the street lights came on. It is easy to blame parents for the nation's childhood obesity problem, but have you been outside lately? The closest big city to me is Stockton, which filed for bankruptcy in June and boasts one of the top ten highest violent crime rates in the nation. I do not blame parents for barricading their children indoors all day long if Stockton is waiting outside for them.

Lane concludes her piece by saying:

Childhood obesity isn't skyrocketing because people have access to soda. It is skyrocketing because our quality of life is plummeting. Somewhere along the line, we determined that keeping our kids indoors with electronic screens all day is preferable to letting them go out into the society we've created for them.

Why are we shocked that Coca-Cola wants to explore this issue further? More importantly, why is there such outrage (and suggestions of conspiracy) that a corporation would provide funding to study an important issue. We should be applauding that scientists are finding the funding to expand the research of obesity beyond food and beverages. Having a comprehensive understanding of what causes obesity will help us find a real solution to this nagging problem. 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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