The University of Colorado School of Medicine says it is returning a $1 million donation from Coca-Cola that was intended to help run a not-for-profit group studying ways to combat obesity.
The university's decision to give back the money comes a few months after an article in The New York Times reported on the gift to the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), which the newspaper described as an organization that "promotes the argument that weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise."
The article cited critics who characterized the soft drink company's donation as "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."
James Hill, a professor at the University of Colorado's medical school, is president of the GEBN. He is one of several researchers from several universities involved in the network.
After the newspaper article appeared, the GEBN posted a response on its web site stating, "It is unfortunate that the GEBN wa characterized as a group that promotes physical activity at the expense of diet. Nothing could be further from the truth." It also stated that it was comfortable with the donation and that Coca-Cola had no input into how the money was spent.
"The company knew that many GEBN scientists were concerned about consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and recognized that some of the recommendations from the group would likely be for the company to do more to reduce this consumption," the GEBN said.
But on Friday, the medical school announced it was returning the Coca-Cola donation because it had become a distraction.
"While the network continues to advocate for good health through a balance of healthy eating habits and exercise, the funding source has distracted attention from its worthwhile goal," the medical school said in a news release.