Soda group suspends payments to dietitians opposing new tax

An industry group that represents Coca-Cola and other drink makers says it is suspending payments to health experts to oppose soda taxes through posts on social media.

The move by the American Beverage Association comes after Coke asked it to review such work. That followed a health advocacy group noting that dietitians were opposing soda taxes on Twitter this week, and asking whether they were paid by Coke. Tweets included disclosures to note the posters were being paid, but didn't specify by whom.

After facing criticism for its work with health experts last year, Coca-Cola had said that it was no longer paying experts for such media work and that it was reviewing its various efforts to be more transparent.

That did not apply to the American Beverage Association, of which Coca-Cola is the largest member. On Thursday, however, the beverage association said it was also suspending "use of these experts in social and digital media engagement pending a review." The group noted that the experts follow strict transparency standards, and that they're paid for "their time, not their opinion." Still, it said it was reviewing its work to ensure it is meeting the standards of its members.

The suspension does not apply to the American Beverage Association's other efforts to fight soda tax proposals around the country.

Kevin Keane, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, said the group had been working with health experts on such social media efforts for several years. He said the association plans to post online its relationships with various health experts to be transparent. Coca-Cola began providing similar disclosures last year.

The tweets critical of soda taxes by dietitians featured by the health advocacy group included disclosures such as the word "advisor" to note they were being paid.

Andy Bellatti, strategic director for Dietitians for Professional Integrity, said that a word such as "sponsor" or "ad" would have been "more specific about what's happening."

Ninjas for Health, the group that noted the tweets by health experts, described itself as a public health consultancy and a volunteer network of individual public health activists. It says it receives no funding from the soda industry. It did not immediately specify who its clients are.


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