For decades, Coke has aimed to “shift blame for obesity away from bad diets.” The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has served as its loyal partner in this effort. In 2015, CrossFit Founder and Chairman Greg Glassman exposed the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) as a front group for Coca-Cola masquerading as an impartial scientific and academic organization. A month later, the New York Times followed suit. Three men — Steven Blair, Gregory A. Hand, and James O. Hill — helped Coke found the GEBN in order to influence nutrition science from a pro-beverage industry position. These men maintained leadership roles with the soda-funded ACSM for decades: Blair is a former president of the ACSM, Hand is an ACSM fellow featured in ACSM textbooks, and Hill gave the keynote speech at the ACSM’s annual meeting in 2015.
The GEBN collapsed, but another Coca-Cola proxy has survived: Exercise is Medicine (EIM), a referral scheme that encourages physicians to prescribe physical activity to patients, connecting patients with trainers who are willing to work within the bounds of EIM’s physical activity recommendations and limitations on nutrition advice. If the GEBN was Coke’s attempt to influence science, then EIM is its attempt to infiltrate medicine while muzzling fitness trainers. Contrary to what the ACSM currently portrays, Coca-Cola is EIM’s “first founding partner.” Coke and the ACSM launched EIM in 2007, when Coke-funded MD Robert Sallis was ACSM president.
With the GEBN, Coke attempted to cast doubt on the relationship between nutrition and obesity. With EIM, Coke aims to sell that message to the medical and fitness communities. For example, EIM instructs participating fitness trainers to avoid giving any specific nutritional advice, such as recommending that overweight clients or those with Type 2 diabetes avoid soda. Moreover, Coca-Cola has leveraged EIM to fight soda taxes in Mexico. It is no surprise, therefore, that a 2016 article by Jeanne Lenzer, published in the BMJ, correctly refers to “Coca-Cola’s Exercise is Medicine initiative.” However, not everyone is willing to articulate the relationship between Coca-Cola and EIM so clearly.
The authors of a study titled “Physical Activity Promotion for Patients Transitioning to Dialysis Using the ‘Exercise is Medicine’ Framework: A Multi-Center Randomized Pragmatic Trial (EIM-CKD Trial) Protocol” portray the EIM scheme as something other than what it really is. They falsely claim that the “Exercise is Medicine (EIM) Framework” is “an initiative conceived in 2007 by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and co-launched by the American Medical Association.”
The facts are quite different. The American Medical Association (AMA) did not co-launch or co-found EIM. CrossFit HQ noticed this error and sent the authors a correction:
In your recent paper, “Physical activity promotion for patients transitioning to dialysis using the ‘Exercise is Medicine’ framework: a multi-center randomized pragmatic trial (EIM-CKD trial) protocol,” you incorrectly state that the American Medical Association (AMA) co-launched Exercise is Medicine (EIM): “For this, we adapted the Exercise is Medicine (EIM) Framework, an initiative conceived in 2007 by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and co-launched by the American Medical Association, with the ultimate mission of implementing evidence-based PA intervention as standard of care for every patient .”
In fact, in February of 2016, then AMA president Steven J. Stack responded to CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman in the attached letter to confirm “the AMA was not a co-founder of EIM,” as your letter states. Rather, as Stack clarified, the AMA was a “supporter, and is no longer associated with this initiative.” The ACSM nonetheless continues to claim the AMA co-launched Exercise is Medicine. This claim is not only incorrect but serves to obscure the nature of EIM’s founding partnership, comprising the ACSM and The Coca-Cola Company. ACSM described Coca-Cola as the “first founding partner” of Exercise is Medicine.
I ask that you amend your paper to reflect the true origins of EIM. If you need further examples of the partnership between the ACSM and The Coca-Cola Company, please feel free to reach out.
The ensuing response was clearly not meant for CrossFit:
And this author’s expertise apparently does not extend to checking who is on an email thread:
In response to a legitimate correction of a false claim in a study, one author asked, “How do you want to handle this?” And another, Felipe Lobelo, responded with, “ Please ignore this.”
Who are these authors who are so committed to publishing false information and ignoring the truth about Coca-Cola’s role as EIM’s first founding partner? Ram Jagannathan, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow with the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center. Felipe Lobelo, MD and Ph.D., “directs the Exercise is Medicine Global Research and Collaboration Center” and is an Associate Professor at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health has accepted more than $2 million in donations from Coca-Cola, directly. He also serves on the EIM board alongside Steven Blair, formerly of the ACSM and the GEBN, and Nicole Keith, current president of the ACSM. Both have clear incentives to hide the true nature of Coca-Cola’s involvement in founding EIM.
And why would they wish to replace Coca-Cola with the AMA as the founding partner? That’s clear enough: People are rightfully skeptical about what Coca-Cola says about public health, and they trust the AMA more. In falsely claiming the AMA co-launched EIM and hiding Coca-Cola’s founding role, Lobelo lends it a false imprimatur. No wonder he would prefer that CrossFit’s correction be swept under the rug. This pattern of behavior is not unique to Coca-Cola — earlier this year, CrossFit caught full-time PepsiCo employee Jon Kyle Davis falsely portraying himself in academic research as a university professor.
As for Lobelo, he has a history of partnering with other medical organizations to bolster his work at EIM. He leveraged his job at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he worked as a medical epidemiologist at CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention. This same CDC office also served as a Coca-Cola proxy, as the BMJ exposed.
Anyone who still grants EIM the benefit of the doubt should consider how its officials responded when confronted with the truth. They chose to “ignore it.” Better to leave a false claim in print than to admit that Coca-Cola, not the AMA, is EIM’s first founding partner.