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Coca-Cola’s Research Contracts Allowed It to Kill Unfavorable Studies

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Bottles of Coke-Cola wait to be shipped out at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The food and beverage industry has a history of influencing public-health research by funding favorable studies. A study published this week suggests that Coca-Cola also used its grants to do the reverse: Several of its corporate contracts with American and Canadian universities allowed the company to terminate research projects without reason‚ a practice that consumer advocates have heavily criticized as biased.

The study, published on Wednesday in the Journal of Public Health Policy, examines research agreements with four universities: Louisiana State University, University of South Carolina, University of Toronto, and the University of Washington. While these contracts are fairly common within the industry, according to the authors (one of whom is affiliated with U.S. Right to Know, a non-profit consumer advocacy group), they do give funders a lot of leeway to oversee or even bury research findings.

Through 87,000 documents obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests, the researchers found that some of the contracts include provisions giving Coca-Cola the right to review research and control the disclosure of the corporation’s funding. “The emails we obtained reveal that academic partners recognize Coca-Cola’s influence on the research it funds, even where it is not directing the research,” the study authors wrote.

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