Heard of the Global Energy Balance Network? Didn’t think so. It’s Coca-Cola using "science" to deflect the blame for obesity away from sugar-loaded soda. Onto . . . what?
The Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) is self-described as a voluntary, public-private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to identifying and implementing innovative solutions — based on the science of energy balance — to prevent and reduce diseases associated with inactivity, poor nutrition and obesity.
Why energy balance? Because, according to the GEBN’s credo “The concept of energy balance provides a new science-based framework for exploring innovative yet practical solutions to help people around the world enjoy healthy energy balance.”
Talk about pseudo-scientific doubletalk. Energy balance science helps people enjoy healthy energy balance ... Say what?
C’mon. Healthy energy balance? As Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men” responds when asked whether the danger he faces at Guantanamo constitutes “grave danger:” Is there any other kind? I guess I’m acknowledging my editor’s DNA here, but doesn’t “energy balance” imply healthy? Do we really need to specify healthy energy balance?
But back to the underlying issue here. Coca-Cola’s newly formed front group describes “healthy energy balance” to mean “being at a stable body weight and a level of food intake and physical activity compatible with good health.” Their mission statement suggests that an “energy balance framework” involving both diet and physical activity can serve as “a platform to help transform human civilization to achieve optimal health through sustainable solutions that also drive economic prosperity.”
Wow. And you thought they were just pushing soft drinks.
Want more pseudo-science? Here’s another excerpt from the Global Energy Balance Network’s visionary positioning:
“Around the globe, much of the current obesity dialogue focuses on regulating the environment as a way to promote healthy behavior. While environmental change is crucial, it is also necessary to understand the psychological and social determinants of individual and population behavior in order to formulate workable solutions that do not have unintended consequences. What’s needed is an evidence-based approach based on the concept of energy balance to address the complex issues that obesity and other energy-balance-related diseases present.”
Allow me translate that pile of jargon-ese to English:
“Too many health officials are trying to curb obesity by restricting soft drinks. We need to switch the focus to guilt-tripping people into believing their own laziness is the real reason they’re fat.”
Along with “serving as a virtual hub for raising awareness among policymakers, research institutions, governments, media and the public through advocacy of energy balance,” GEBN is forming a “Think-Do Tank.” See — there’s an innovative yet practical idea right there! The group says it will “bring together scientists and non-scientists from far-reaching disciplines to address important questions about how to apply our understanding of the biology of energy balance and the social, cultural and economic forces shaping our world, to develop effective approaches to promote healthy living.”
What, did some high school student submit this web copy as part of a college scholarship essay contest? Because it’s loaded with more clichés than Coke has calories.
Let me spare the scientists and non-scientists that Coca-Cola is “bringing together” -- translation: putting on their payroll -- a whole lot of time and trouble. The cause of obesity is excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates, and soft drinks are one of the leading culprits. This crap about energy balance science is merely a smoke screen to deflect regulators, policymakers and media members from harping on exactly that fact.
Coke executives can blather all they want about the so-called psychological and social determinants of individual and population behavior. The bottom line is that as consumption of soft drinks and fast-food/junk food grew exponentially during the 1980s and 1990s, so did the rates of obesity, especially among younger children and even infants, who certainly can’t be accused of not being active enough.
As soft drinks sales have slowly eroded due to competition from flavored waters, energy drinks and fruit-based beverages, obesity rates have slowed down.
The trend hasn’t gone in reverse yet, but I’m confident that energy balance science will soon identify a whole bunch of sustainable solutions that will promote healthy living while transforming human civilization.
Oh, and driving economic prosperity.
Makes me want to have a Coke and a smile, because you can’t beat the feeling when life tastes good.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator