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Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets

Coca Cola and the West Virginia University School of Public Health

Russell Mokhiber

Hoppy Kercheval is host of the popular West Virginia radio talk show — Talkline.

The show runs weekdays from 10 am to 12 noon statewide on the West Virginia Metronews Radio Network.

Kercheval’s politics run right of center, but he’s considered a fair and balanced host.

On Fridays at 11:30, Kercheval opens the phones to his listeners in a segment he calls Steam Release.

During Steam Release, listeners can call in and vent their frustrations on any topic they like — and Hoppy says he won’t respond.

“You can do your mini-monologue,” Kercheval told his listeners this morning. “Practice it, organize your thoughts, what needs to be said — punch it hard. And if you want, you can punch me. And I’ll take it. I will not respond. I will not respond. I’ll take it.”

But this morning, Kercheval reneged on his promise to not respond and to take whatever came his way.

And he cut off a caller — twice.

I know, because I was the caller.

I was not happy with the news, first reported earlier this month in the New York Times, that Coca-Cola had given money to Gregory Hand, now the dean of the West Virginia School of Public Health, to fund a non-profit group — the Global Energy Balance Network — to promote the view that “weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise.”

Health experts say this message is misleading and part of an effort by Coke to deflect criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, the Times reported.

The health experts contend that the company is “using the new group to convince the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet despite evidence that exercise has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume,” the Times reported.

“Coca-Cola had provided significant funding to Dr. Hand, who left the University of South Carolina last year for West Virginia,” the Times reported. “The company gave him $806,500 for an ‘energy flux’ study in 2011 and $507,000 last year to establish the Global Energy Balance Network.”

“It is unclear how much of the money, if any, ended up as personal income” for Dr. Hand, the Times reported.

I called in to Steam Release, got on the air, and started talking about the money from Coca-Cola to set up the Global Energy Balance Network and said that Dr. Hand should resign or be fired.

But then the phone went dead.

I heard Kercheval say — “I just cut him off.”

I called back in, thinking that Kercheval accidentally cut me off.

I was put back on the air, started speaking, and was again cut off.

“Don’t do pejorative, personal attacks on Steam Release, okay?” Kercheval said.

Calling for the head of the West Virginia School of Public Health to resign for taking money from Coca-Cola to set up a foundation to mislead the public about public health is a “pejorative, personal attack”?

And what about — “punch it hard and I will not respond — I will take it.”

“The Coca-Cola Company is a key cause of the epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes that plagues our nation,” said Gary Ruskin co-director of the Oakland, California based public interest group U.S. Right to Know. “The Global Energy Balance Network is a corporate front group for Coca-Cola. It is wrong for a professor of a public health school to help establish a corporate front group to protect Coca-Cola and its profits. It is especially wrong for a dean to do so. Dean Hand should be fired or should resign immediately.”

My point exactly.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Russell Mokhiber

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. He is also founder of, and editor of the website Morgan County USA.

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