Coca-Cola has spent $1.7 million funding Australian health groups over five years

Coca-Cola has released a list of health groups and research institutions in Australia to which it makes donations. Over five years Coke, or its foundation, has spent $1.72 million funding research relating to "nutrition and health or to physical activity" and "well-being programs".

Organisations receiving money from Coke include the University of Sydney, Nutrition Society of Australia, Ted Noffs Foundation, Bicycle Network, Sports Medicine Australia, University of Queensland, David Wirrpanda Foundation, police citizen youth clubs, Australian Paralympic Committee and the Australian Circus and Physical Theatre Association.

Coca-Cola's not-so-secret health funding

Coca-Cola promised six months ago to reveal the recipients of its health-related research grants, in the wake of allegations of astroturfing. This video was made before Coke revealed its funding in Australia, which it did this week.

The list was quietly published online on Thursday a fortnight after Fairfax Media revealed Coca-Cola had failed to disclose its health funding in Australia. At the time Coca-Cola said compiling the information was "a lengthy process" and said "we will publish this information in the coming months".

The funding list, titled "Our commitment to transparency", outlines 36 funding events totalling $1.72 million.

The Coca-Cola sign in Kings Cross, Sydney.
The Coca-Cola sign in Kings Cross, Sydney. Photo: Brendan Esposito

In response to questions from the Herald, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola South Pacific said: "We have made a good-faith effort to disclose all the funding that meets the inclusion criteria."

However, the list does not include the NSW Institute of Sport, which lists Coca-Cola on its sponsorship page for the 2015 NSWIS Awards.

Coca-Cola said: "This is a commercial agreement related to a product and outside the criteria." In a separate statement, the NSW Institute of Sport said: "This support is part of a commercial agreement related to a product outside of the criteria."

Unless directly related to health, the list does not include donations to Indigenous organisations, such as the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience, or to environmental organisations, such as WWF and Landcare, which all receive funding from Coke.

A sign in Atlanta, the home of Coke.
A sign in Atlanta, the home of Coke. Photo: AP

Matt Noffs told the Herald that the Noffs Foundation decided that it was incumbent upon it to be transparent about their funding. It received a one-off $10,000 in 2014 for its Street Health program from the Coca-Cola Foundation.

Mr Noffs said: "Since 2014 our comprehension of the industry has [been] elevated thanks to some incredible documentaries like That Sugar Film. What we know about sugar now we didn't know 10 years ago. Sugar is basically a drug."

Matt Noffs of the Noffs Foundation.
Matt Noffs of the Noffs Foundation. 

He said it was unlikely the foundation would accept funding from Coke again without further regulation of the sugar and soft drinks industry.

Fairfax Media understands that $375,540 listed as going to the University of Sydney for a workplace health program for Coke employees went to the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders

Muhtar Kent, chief executive Coca-Cola.
Muhtar Kent, chief executive Coca-Cola. Photo: Coca-Cola

A spokeswoman for the university said: "The program was not related to research at the university or to Coca-Cola products. Due to changing work structures at Coca-Cola Australia, the company opted not to fully implement the program. Despite this, the University of Sydney remains committed to sharing its expertise with other public and private organisations to help improve the health of all Australians.

Professor Steve Simpson, academic director of the Charles Perkins Centre, said: "This health program was accepted as a contract for services prior to the establishment of the Charles Perkins Centre, when the Boden Institute existed as a standalone body. The Charles Perkins Centre has never accepted funding for research from Coca Cola, and maintains strict guidelines for engagement with industry to protect the integrity of the centre's core mission to improve public health.

Bicycle Network told the Herald: "We'd love the Coca-Cola Company to continue this incredible program for many years and are proud to be a part of it."

In its disclosure Coca-Cola stresses that it does not "have the right to prevent publication of the research results" or "provide funding conditioned on the outcome of the research".

The president of Coca-Cola South Pacific, Roberto Mercade, said: "The vast majority of the funding in Australia goes to ... support charities, the public sector and not-for-profit organisations. 

"We are proud of the programs we have supported – the majority of which are community and grassroots programs."

Coca-Cola has been under pressure regarding its funding to health organisations following revelations by The New York Times it had funded the Global Energy Balance Network, which emphasised fighting obesity through exercise rather than calorie control.

The drinks company was accused of "astroturfing" opinion - funding organisations to create the impression of community support for Coke's health messaging.

Fairfax Media approached a number of organisations on the list of fund recipients, including the Nutrition Society of Australia. Most had not responded by the time of publication.