According to a report on Australian news program "The World Today," the congress was preceded by a breakfast provided by Coca-Cola. This type of influence is one of the main points of contention for scientists who believe soft drinks are a major contributor to the world obesity problem.
Doctor John Foreyt of the Behavioral Medicines Research Center in Houston disagrees, saying soft drinks have been unfairly targeted in the efforts to turn back the obesity tide, however, he admits to receiving funding from Coca-Cola. Foreyt commented that he does not believe that this link is relevant to the message he is trying to present.
"I think the answer to really looking at a healthy lifestyle is balance and variety and moderation, and any time you pick out a single culprit you're going to really be in trouble, because, you know, obesity and health risks are all associated with multiple factors," Foreyt said, adding that research focusing on soft drinks -- which shows as much as 50 percent of the 300 excess calories consumed daily by Americans come from soft drinks -- does not look at the big picture.
"Well, calories are calories are calories, so you want to look at balance, and if people are getting their calories from one source, too many calories, people can get in trouble, but that caloric source can be anything," he said. "So you really have to look at your overall diet. I think that's still the bottom line."
"What a surprise: A psychiatrist paid by Coca-Cola says there's nothing wrong with soft drinks," countered Mike Adams, a holistic nutritionist and author of The Five Soft Drink Monsters. "The old junk science claim that 'calories are calories' is nonsense. Refined sugars from soft drinks are very different from the natural sugars found in fruit," he said. "The soft drink industry is engaged in a well-funded campaign of disinformation designed to deflect blame in order to protect their profits."
Tim Gill, the director of the Australasian Society for the Study of Obesity who also attended the conference in Sydney, agreed, saying that the testimony of industry-sponsored experts such as Foreyt clouds the facts of the obesity issue.
"Companies have been able to bring together a panel of experts whose views suit their particular promotional needs, and so that's always a degree of concern," he said. "That's not necessarily to reflect badly on the individuals who give those presentations, because quite often, you know, they have an honest belief that that's the case.
"But when you've got a lot of money and you're able to get together the right sort of panel and, more importantly, promote the information they're presenting, what it tends to do is confuse a picture where there is generally a degree of consensus."
Gill said that he thinks that there is a general consensus among experts that soft drinks are a major contributor to increased weight problems, especially among teenagers, and taking steps to reduce soft drink intake is important to dealing with the problem.