The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has published a report titled “Selfish Giving: How the Soda Industry Uses Philanthropy to Sweeten its Profits.” Noting that the African-American and Hispanic organizations that brought a successful court challenge against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s size restrictions on sugar-sweetened beverages were the recipients of grants from the soft drink industry, the report suggests that industry sponsorships are used to leverage their reputations. While the money allows organizations serving minorities and underserved populations to achieve their goals, CSPI contends, “The [beverage] companies sometimes exploit those partnerships to support their political objectives.” CSPI calls for recipient organizations to think twice about accepting money from the industry.

According to the report, advocacy organizations, government officials and health-care providers have increased their efforts to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, which CSPI indicates has dramatically increased and accuses of “increasing the risk for diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and cancer” and contributing to an obesity epidemic that drains “between $147 billion and $210 billion annually from the U.S. economy.” The industry’s response, says CSPI, has been aggressive, including an often overlooked element—the implementation of “corporate-responsibility and marketing programs to advance the industry’s policy and profit objectives.”

CSPI discusses how some cities that proposed taxes on soda and prohibitions on sugar-sweetened drinks on government property were offered millions of dollars in prize money by the American Beverage Association (ABA) to develop “personal responsibility-driven wellness campaigns.” The report states that program rules for another anti-obesity contest obligated cities that accepted the grants “to host a promotional press event at which they, alongside the ABA, would publicly announce their awards.” From CSPI’s perspective, “The grants appear to be an attempt by the beverage industry to blunt budding local efforts to reduce soda consumption through such interventions as taxes, removing sugar drinks from government property, and education programs.”

Claiming “[i]t should come as no surprise that the soft-drink industry pursues its own self-interest in constructing giving strategies,” the report concludes by stating, “Years ago health advocates began to question the tobacco industry’s generous contributions to popular social welfare (and other) causes, including those representing the interests of minority communities. Despite the clear need for such support, many groups recognized the potential for conflicts of interest between cigarette-company largesse and the public health and gradually reduced their dependency on funds that often came with political and policy strings attached.” The report includes a list of 30 organizations that have “ties to the beverage industry,” organizations that support the ABA’s “Americans Against Food Taxes” initiative and model guidelines, developed by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, for nonprofits to evaluate proposed relationships with other organizations. See CSPI News Release, March 19, 2013.