NZ academics took money from Coke

3:20 pm on 14 March 2016

New Zealand researchers who took money from Coca-Cola were naive to do so as it was a conflict of interest, a dental health advocate says.

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Photo: AFP

Coca-Cola South Pacific has revealed it has spent just over $130,000 seeking advice from researchers in Australia and New Zealand.

The experts who advised Coca-Cola include Bernadette Drummond and Nancy Rehrer, both from Otago University, and Hutt Valley District Health Board paediatric dentist Erin Mahoney.

Nelson Marlborough Health Board principal dental officer Rob Beaglehole says while he was sure the three women had the best of intentions when they agreed to take money from the company, they were naive to do so.

Dr Beaglehole spends much of his time removing rotting teeth from small children due to the impact of sugary drinks.

"That's part of the problem with working with the industry in that capacity. It's almost as though that the dental name is being used for the benefit of a company that is selling products that are directly harming children's' teeth."

Experts in the field should be promoting water and milk, and not advising companies that cause the problem in the first place, he said.

Associate Professor in the School of Physical Education, Sport & Exercise Sciences, Nancy Rehrer, said she has never denied she was on the Coca Cola Health & Wellness Advisory Council.

Nancy Rehrer

Nancy Rehrer Photo: UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO

"I received travel and compensation costs and did not receive any research funds. Nevertheless I feel that working with industry should be encouraged and not discouraged," she said in a statement to RNZ News.

"I and other members of the council served to inform Coca Cola on recent research, which was often research that showed the negative effects of high sugar content in the diet."

The council provided feedback on some of the company's initiatives, which included reducing serving size and sugar content, suggesting healthy alternatives, and feedback on environmental projects such as providing bikes to youth and developing bottles from recycled materials.

"I strongly object to the implication that if I and other scientists and medical professionals on the board provided counsel to a business, that our scientific integrity is questioned."

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