San Jose Police Crack Down On Violence

The San Jose Police Department is cracking down on violent crime after the city's 25th homicide this year.

KQED Launches Affordable Care Act Guide

Are you confused about Obamacare? KQED and The California Report created a guide to help answer your questions about the Affordable Care Act.

Physician-Assisted Suicide to Become Legal in California

Governor Jerry Brown signed the "End of Life Option Act" on Monday, granting terminally ill patients in California the right to end their lives with the help of a physician. The bill will take effect in 2016 and culminates a 23-year effort to legalize medically-assisted suicide in the state. Supporters say the legislation will give people who are dying a legal alternative to a painful and prolonged death. Opponents of the law fear it will lead to unnecessary or even coerced deaths.

Capitol Hill Battle Over Defunding Planned Parenthood Intensifies

House Republicans have voted to block federal funding of Planned Parenthood, which they accuse of illegally profiting from the sale of aborted fetus tissues. Senate Democrats and President Obama both oppose de-funding the organization that provides family planning and health care services to men and women across the country. We look at the political and health care implications of the debate over Planned Parenthood.

PBS NewsHour

Fiorina makes claims on Planned Parenthood a campaign centerpiece

Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina speaks at a forum in Greenville, South
         Carolina, September 18, 2015. Fiorina, who is making opposition to Planned Parenthood a centerpiece of her campaign, has repeated
         an erroneous description of videos secretly recorded by anti-abortion activists. Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters

Republican presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina speaks at a forum in Greenville, South Carolina, September 18, 2015. Fiorina, who is making opposition to Planned Parenthood a centerpiece of her campaign, has repeated an erroneous description of videos secretly recorded by anti-abortion activists. Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina has spent the last two weeks repeating an erroneous description of videos secretly recorded by anti-abortion activists. That seems bound to continue as she makes her opposition to Planned Parenthood a centerpiece of her 2016 campaign.

Campaigning in South Carolina on Friday, Fiorina said she “absolutely” stands by her criticism of Planned Parenthood. She accused the women’s health organization – it’s also the nation’s largest abortion provider – of pushing “propaganda” against her while being “aided and abetted by the media.”

Fiorina has brushed off the facts surrounding her claim as a “technicality.” Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, survived this week the latest attempt of conservatives in Congress to cut off its federal funding and accused her of lying.

The flap began at Republicans’ Sept. 16 presidential debate, when Fiorina brought up widely circulated videos secretly recorded by anti-abortion activists and showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of fetal tissue to researchers.

“As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape — I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes,” Fiorina said. “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”

That detailed scene does not occur in the videos, produced by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress. One of the videos, still posted on the center’s YouTube channel as of Friday, shows a woman identified as an “ex-procurement technician” from a firm other than Planned Parenthood discussing harvesting the brain of an aborted fetus.

As the woman talks, the video cuts away to show an image that producers have confirmed is stock footage of a stillborn baby miscarried in a hospital after 19 weeks of gestation.

After being questioned multiple times about her claims, Fiorina’s campaign released an online ad that again includes the image, with the claim that “Carly Fiorina won the debate. Now come the false attacks.”

This, despite the fact that the baby was miscarried, not aborted, and that the image comes from a hospital procedure unconnected with Planned Parenthood.

Fiorina has pushed back in multiple interviews. Often, the crux of her argument, beyond sticking to her incorrect description of the anti-Planned Parenthood videos, is that she has not misrepresented the group’s actions and that the larger issue is about the character of the nation.

“They’re trying to have a conversation about a technicality about a videotape,” Fiorina said last week at Christian women’s health center in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The center, which does not provide abortions, has become a popular stop for Republican presidential candidates. “The character of this nation cannot be about butchery of babies for body parts,” Fiorina said.

At another South Carolina stop, she linked liberals’ support for abortion rights with environmental regulations. “They are perfectly prepared to destroy other people’s jobs and livelihoods and communities in order to protect fish and frogs and flies,” she said. “But they do not think a 17-week-old, a 20-week-old, a 24-week-old is worth saving. This, ladies and gentlemen, is hypocrisy.”

Yet when asked specifically about the video, she’s never budged. On NBC’s Sept. 27 edition of “Meet the Press,” host Chuck Todd asked Fiorina if she would admit to “exaggerating” the scene in question. “No, not at all,” she said. “That scene absolutely does exist.” But she has not produced the footage and even anti-abortion activists say it does not exist as she has described it.

On Friday, she asked in South Carolina, “Why is it Planned Parenthood cannot and will not deny late-term abortions are being performed for the purposes of obtaining brains and other body parts? … It’s happening.”

Planned Parenthood doesn’t dispute that fetal tissue is sometimes taken for research, but notes the practice is legal and payments only cover expenses of the process.

“In two states, Planned Parenthood helps patients who want to donate tissue for fetal tissue research, following clear guidance that goes well above and beyond the legal requirements in this area,” said spokesman Eric Ferrero, referring to California and Washington. “This work is not about ‘harvesting’ or ‘selling’ or ‘profiting’ – it is about helping facilitate patients’ wishes to support medical research that can help treat and cure serious diseases.”

Recent polling suggests Fiorina’s criticism of Planned Parenthood is out of step with the wider electorate but in line with conservatives. Pew Research Center found in a Sept. 22-27 poll that 60 percent of adults in the U.S. wanted a budget deal to maintain funding for Planned Parenthood. But among Republicans, 66 percent said any budget deal must eliminate the money – 78 percent among those who identify as “conservative Republicans.”

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When a secret president ran the country

Painting by Frank Graham Cootes, via Wikimedia Commons

As we look forward to the presidential campaign of 2016, it seems appropriate to recall that Oct. 2, 1919, may well mark the first time in American history a woman became de-facto president of the United States. Painting by Frank Graham Cootes, via Wikimedia Commons

Woodrow Wilson may have been one of our hardest-working chief executives and by the fall of 1919, he looked it.

For most of the six months between late Dec. 1918 and June 1919, our 28th president was in Europe negotiating the Treaty of Versailles and planning for the nascent League of Nations, efforts for which he was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize (an award he did not officially receive until 1920). Back home, however, the ratification of the treaty met with mixed public support and strong opposition from Republican senators, led by Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass.), as well as Irish Catholic Democrats. As the summer progressed, President Wilson worried that defeat was in the air.

Bone-tired but determined to wage peace, on Sept. 3, 1919, Woodrow Wilson embarked on a national speaking tour across the United States so that he could make his case directly to the American people. For the next three and a half weeks, the president, his wife Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, assorted aides, servants, cooks, Secret Service men and members of the press rode the rails. The presidential train car, quaintly named the Mayflower, served as a rolling White House. Also joining the party was the president’s personal physician, Cary T. Grayson, who had grave concerns over his patient’s health.

Not that Woodrow Wilson was the picture of health before beginning this grueling crusade.

When Wilson took office, the famed physician and part-time novelist Silas Weir Mitchell ominously predicted that the president would never complete his first term. Dr. Weir was wrong on that prognosis even though Dr. Grayson did fret aloud and often about the Wilson’s tendency to overwork.

For example, while negotiating with European leaders on arriving at an equitable peace to end “the Great War,” Wilson worked incessantly, eliminating all the exercise, entertainment and relaxation sessions from his schedule. And like tens of millions of other people during the worst pandemic in human history, the American president succumbed to a terrible case of influenza in early April of 1919.

All during September of 1919, as the presidential train traveled across the Midwest, into the Great Plains states, over the Rockies into the Pacific Northwest and then down the West Coast before turning back East, the president became thinner, paler and ever more frail. He lost his appetite, his asthma grew worse and he complained of unrelenting headaches.

Unfortunately, Woodrow Wilson refused to listen to his body.

He had too much important work to do. Combining his considerable skills as a professor, scholar of history, political science and government, orator and politician, he threw himself into the task of convincing the skeptics and preaching to the choir on the importance of ratifying the treaty and joining the League of Nations. At many of the “whistle stops,” vociferous critics heckled and shouted down his proposals. In the Senate, his political opponents criticized Wilson’s diplomacy, complained that the treaty reduced the Congress’s power to declare war, and ultimately voted the treaty down.

Late on the evening of Sept. 25, 1919, after speaking in Pueblo, Colorado, Edith discovered Woodrow in a profound state of illness; his facial muscles were twitching uncontrollably and he was experiencing severe nausea. Earlier in the day, he complained of a splitting headache.

Six weeks after the event, Dr. Grayson told a journalist that he had noted a “curious drag or looseness at the left side of [Wilson’s] mouth — a sign of danger that could no longer be obscured.” In retrospect, this event may have been a transient ischemic attack (TIA), the medical term for a brief loss of blood flow to the brain, or “mini-stroke,” which can be a harbinger for a much worse cerebrovascular event to follow — in other words, a full-fledged stroke.

On Sept. 26, the president’s private secretary, Joseph Tumulty, announced that the rest of the speaking tour had been canceled because the president was suffering from “a nervous reaction in his digestive organs.” The Mayflower sped directly back to Washington’s Union Station. Upon arrival, on Sept. 28, the president appeared ill but was able to walk on his own accord through the station. He tipped his hat to awaiting crowd, shook the hands of a few of the people along the track’s platform, and was whisked away to the White House for an enforced period of rest and examination by a battery of doctors.

Everything changed on the morning of Oct. 2, 1919. According to some accounts, the president awoke to find his left hand numb to sensation before falling into unconsciousness. In other versions, Wilson had his stroke on the way to the bathroom and fell to the floor with Edith dragging him back into bed. However those events transpired, immediately after the president’s collapse, Mrs. Wilson discretely phoned down to the White House chief usher, Ike Hoover and told him to “please get Dr. Grayson, the president is very sick.”

Grayson quickly arrived. Ten minutes later, he emerged from the presidential bedroom and the doctor’s diagnosis was terrible: “My God, the president is paralyzed,” Grayson declared.

President Woodrow Wilson, seated at desk with his wife, Edith Bolling Galt, standing at his side. First posed picture
         after Mr. Wilson's illness, White House, June 1920. Courtesy the Library of Congress

President Woodrow Wilson, seated at desk with his wife, Edith Bolling Galt, standing at his side. First posed picture after Mr. Wilson’s illness, White House, June 1920. Courtesy the Library of Congress

What would surprise most Americans today is how the entire affair, including Wilson’s extended illness and long-term disability, was shrouded in secrecy. In recent years, the discovery of the presidential physicians’ clinical notes at the time of the illness confirm that the president’s stroke left him severely paralyzed on his left side and partially blind in his right eye, along with the emotional maelstroms that accompany any serious, life-threatening illness, but especially one that attacks the brain. Only a few weeks after his stroke, Wilson suffered a urinary tract infection that threatened to kill him. Fortunately, the president’s body was strong enough to fight that infection off but he also experienced another attack of influenza in January of 1920, which further damaged his health.

Protective of both her husband’s reputation and power, Edith shielded Woodrow from interlopers and embarked on a bedside government that essentially excluded Wilson’s staff, the Cabinet and the Congress. During a perfunctory meeting the president held with Sen. Gilbert Hitchcock (D-Neb.) and Albert Fall (R-N.M.) on Dec. 5, he and Edith even tried to hide the extent of his paralysis by keeping his left side covered with a blanket. Sen. Fall, who was one of the president’s most formidable political foes told Wilson, “I hope you will consider me sincere. I have been praying for you, Sir.” Edith later recalled that Woodrow was, at least, well enough to jest, “Which way, Senator?” A great story, perhaps, but Wilson’s biographer, John Milton Cooper, Jr. doubts its veracity and notes that neither Edith nor Dr. Grayson recorded such a clever rejoinder in their written memoranda from that day.

By February of 1920, news of the president’s stroke began to be reported in the press. Nevertheless, the full details of Woodrow Wilson’s disability, and his wife’s management of his affairs, were not entirely understood by the American public at the time.

What remained problematic was that in 1919 there did not yet exist clear constitutional guidelines of what to do, in terms of the transfer of presidential power, when severe illness struck the chief executive. What the U.S. Constitution’s Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 on presidential succession does state is as follows:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

But Wilson, of course, was not dead and not willing to resign because of inability. As a result, Vice President Thomas Marshall refused to assume the presidency unless the Congress passed a resolution that the office was, in fact, vacant, and only after Mrs. Wilson and Dr. Grayson certified in writing, using the language spelled out by the Constitution, of the president’s “inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office.” Such resolutions never came.

In fact, it was not until 1967 that the 25th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which provides a more specific means of transfer of power when a president dies or is disabled. Parenthetically, many presidential health scholars continue to argue that even the 25th Amendment is not clear enough in terms of presidential succession and needs revision, especially in the face of 21st century medicine and the increased chances of surviving major illnesses with severe and impairing disabilities.

For the remainder of her life, Edith Wilson steadfastly insisted that her husband performed all of his presidential duties after his stroke. As she later declared in her 1938 autobiography, “My Memoir”:

So began my stewardship, I studied every paper, sent from the different Secretaries or Senators, and tried to digest and present in tabloid form the things that, despite my vigilance, had to go to the President. I, myself, never made a single decision regarding the disposition of public affairs. The only decision that was mine was what was important and what was not, and the very important decision of when to present matters to my husband.

Over the last century, historians have continued to dig into the proceedings of the Wilson administration and it has become clear that Edith Wilson acted as much more than a mere “steward.” She was, essentially, the nation’s chief executive until her husband’s second term concluded in March of 1921. Nearly three years later, Woodrow Wilson died in his Washington, D.C., home, at 2340 S Street, NW, at 11:15 AM on Sunday, Feb. 3, 1924.

According to the Feb. 4 issue of The New York Times, the former president uttered his last sentence on Friday, Feb. 1: “I am a broken piece of machinery. When the machinery is broken — I am ready.” And on Saturday, Feb. 2, he spoke his last word: Edith.

As we look forward to the presidential campaign of 2016, it seems appropriate to recall that Oct. 2, 1919, may well mark the first time in American history a woman became de-facto president of the United States, even if Edith Wilson never officially held the post. Indeed, the prolonged blockage of blood flow to his brain changed more than the course of Woodrow Wilson’s life; it changed the course of history.

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Giving millions more access to care, Medicaid expansion strains California’s health system


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JUDY WOODRUFF: The number of people who lack health insurance has fallen substantially since the implementation of the federal health care law known as the Affordable Care Act.

That’s been particularly true in the 30 states that expanded Medicaid. But in more than a dozen of those states, enrollment in the public insurance program for the poor has far eclipsed projections, straining budgets and an overburdened health care system.

Special correspondent Sarah Varney has our report from San Diego.

This story was produced in collaboration with our partner Kaiser Health News.

SARAH VARNEY: The Affordable Care Act unleashed a building boom of community health centers across the country. At a cost of $11 billion, more than 950 new health centers have opened, with hundreds more on the way, all meant to accommodate millions of new Medicaid patients. People like Lori Simpson.

LORI SIMPSON, Medicaid Patient: Hi. How are you?

NURSE: Good. How are you doing?

LORI SIMPSON: Doing good.

SARAH VARNEY: At age 58, after several worrisome decades without health insurance, she’s finally getting treatment for her dangerously high blood pressure, as well as a thyroid disorder, and, after years of double vision, surgery for her eyes.

LORI SIMPSON: I have nine medications that I get every month, and mine comes to a little over $200. My husband, he’s a diabetic, and his medication alone without doctors’ visits or anything comes to over $400 a month.

SARAH VARNEY: And for that, how much do you have to pay?

LORI SIMPSON: We don’t pay anything. It’s all covered. It’s just amazing.

NURSE: Tilt a little bit this way.

SARAH VARNEY: Simpson goes to the Family Health Centers of San Diego, which saw an increase of 24,000 patients, almost overnight, after the Medicaid expansion.

DR. CHRIS GORDON, Family Health Centers of San Diego: Sit up straight. Breathe normally.

SARAH VARNEY: DR. Chris Gordon, the assistant medical director here, says it was a rush primary care clinics have been waiting for ever since President Obama signed the health law.

DR. CHRIS GORDON: We have anticipated this for years, and have been planning for it. We have capacity to take on patients.

These are patients that haven’t had access before because they just didn’t have the financial means to get in.

And now, all of a sudden, they actually get to come in, get to spend time with somebody and get to feel, you know, like they’re heard.

SARAH VARNEY: That’s not to say there haven’t been problems. Three million more people than expected have enrolled in Medicaid in California. Other states have also seen surges far beyond initial projections, including Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington state.

As successful as California has been in enrolling millions in Medicaid and building new primary care clinics, patient advocates say the Medicaid expansion has exacerbated longstanding shortages in specialty care. Community clinic directors say it’s often difficult to find cardiologists, orthopedists and other specialists to see their patients and that low-income Californians still face formidable hurdles when they need medical treatment.

For Alessandro Gonzales Gomez, the search for specialty care has been burdensome. Gomez spent years working as a car salesman and auto parts delivery driver. But now, at age 60 and living alone, he shuffles around his home in an Escondido trailer park, hampered by spells of dizziness.

The spells disrupt his daily prayers and curtail his driving. He’s now insured under Medicaid. But most of the specialists he needs to see are an hour away.

ALESSANDRO GONZALES GOMEZ, Medicaid Patient: On my way over there, I didn’t feel well at all. I, all of a sudden, started getting dizzy again, so I turned around and just went and told them, ‘I can’t do this. It’s too far.’

And I even asked for the director of the clinic, explained my problems. And she told me that that’s the way it worked out, that there were only certain doctors that would contract with them.


DR. TED MAZER, Ear, Nose & Throat Surgeon: OK. Let’s pull you up a chair right here.


SARAH VARNEY: One of the doctors he has managed to reach is Ted Mazer. Mazer is one of the few ears, nose, and throat surgeons in San Diego County who accepts Medicaid patients. He says the state isn’t paying specialists enough to cover their costs.

DR. TED MAZER: Certain surgeries, I can be out of the office for two hours, and we might get $300. My overhead is more than that. So, that’s a loss.

SARAH VARNEY: Dr. Mazer sees only a limited number of Medicaid patients. But he often agrees to treat those like Qadir Khoshnaw, a 19-year-old in need of a complicated nose surgery.

MAN IN SURGICAL WARD: OK. Lay your head back for me.

SARAH VARNEY: But Mazer says the state is failing to guarantee access to this type of care for all Medicaid patients.

DR. TED MAZER: If it was working, I wouldn’t have patients coming here from Oceanside and Fallbrook and from the Mexican border and the Imperial County area and the Riverside border. I’m one office.

Why am I seeing all of those people? Because nobody else is available in their communities to see them. Why not? Because the rates are unacceptable, the hassles from the managed care plans, as well as the state, are unacceptable to most offices to deal with.

SARAH VARNEY: The complaints extend beyond San Diego. A withering state audit released this summer found that regulators couldn’t verify if health plans had enough doctors in their Medicaid networks or if the distances patients had to drive were unreasonable.

The state’s call centers were overwhelmed with phone representatives answering just half of all calls. And too often, those obstacles have forced patients to seek help in expensive emergency rooms. In a recent national survey, three out of four E.R. physicians said patient volume had increased, a pressing concern the Medicaid expansion was meant to address.

DR. CHRISTIAN TOMASZEWSKI, Medical Director, U.C. San Diego’s Emergency Department: There’s a lot of people here with chronic back pain.

SARAH VARNEY: Dr. Christian Tomaszewski, the medical director of U.C. San Diego’s Emergency Department, says E.R. visits have increased 11 percent since the Medicaid expansion.

DR. CHRISTIAN TOMASZEWSKI: A lot of these patients, what we’re also noticing, are coming here looking for sub-specialty care. They need an orthopedist for a complicated fracture. They might need a head and neck doctor for some complicated throat problem. And they’re using the emergency department as a gateway to have access to that kind of care.

SARAH VARNEY: At nearby Scripps Mercy Hospital, visits by new Medicaid patients are up 30 percent due to the health law, says Dr. Davis Cracroft, the hospital’s medical director.

DR. DAVIS CRACROFT, Scripps Mercy Hospital: They have insurance, they come for care, but the overall goal is to get them into a primary care doctor’s office or get them the specialty care that they need. And oftentimes that’s difficult for them to achieve.

JENNIFER KENT, Director, California Department of Health Care Services: We’re committed to having the conversation with you about how it needs to be spent.

SARAH VARNEY: California’s Medicaid program is a budgetary behemoth that falls to Jennifer Kent to manage. She’s the California Department of Health Care Services director.

JENNIFER KENT: There’s definitely growing pains as the system broadly has to stretch to accommodate the influx of enrollees.

SARAH VARNEY: Kent says the state is fixing its phone system and looks closely at complaints, but that problems with physician access are isolated and are being addressed.

JENNIFER KENT: We are struggling, just as every other state is, in terms of: How do we bring people into California, how do we grow primary care providers, and then, more importantly, how do we provide specialists in areas where there may not be specialists today?

SARAH VARNEY: California’s governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, has championed the Medicaid expansion, but like other governors, he’s leery of paying physicians more money just as the state confronts a drop in federal aid.

The federal government is currently paying for the entire Medicaid expansion. but, in 2020, federal support drops to 90 percent. Instead, he wants the state to spend its money revamping a system to better serve low-income patients, who are often sicker and can be hard to reach.

Despite the challenges, there is evidence progress is being made. A recent survey found that in states that expanded Medicaid, 93 percent of new enrollees are satisfied with their coverage.

Alessandro Gonzales Gomez says he will continue the long drives across the county…

ALESSANDRO GONZALES GOMEZ: Next week, I have to go to La Jolla.

SARAH VARNEY: … because his Medicaid card has opened up doors, even if those doors are often difficult to reach.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Sarah Varney in San Diego.

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American Academy of Pediatrics decides relationship with Coke is not so sweet

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 22:  Cans of Coca Cola are displayed in a food truck's
         cooler on July 22, 2014 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on Tuesday to place
         a measure on the November ballot for a 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax. If the measure passes in the November election, tax proceeds
         would help finance nutrition, health, disease prevention and recreation programs.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we look at a second health story, one about childhood obesity, the role of sugary drinks in fueling the epidemic and corporate influence.

A series of reports is putting a fresh spotlight on the spending and role of Coca-Cola, a company that’s known for its sweet products.

Hari Sreenivasan has more from our New York studios.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Coke is the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, so you might not think the American Academy of Pediatrics would partner with the company. But that had indeed been the case until this week. It was a main sponsor of the academy’s Web site,, and a past sponsor of the group’s national conference.

It’s provided over $100 million in financial support to other professional medical and health groups as well. The Academy is now ending its relationship with Coke. And it comes after a recent story in The New York Times laid out how the company has paid for scientific research that plays down the role of soda in obesity.

Anahad O’Connor has been working on these stories, joins me now.

So, I guess the first story — or the most recent story first, what’s the connection between Coke and the Academy of Pediatrics?

ANAHAD O’CONNOR, The New York Times: So, the first story I did was looking at Coke’s — the money that they were paying a lot of researchers and institutions to do research that, you know, was downplaying the role of sugary drinks in obesity.

And in response to that story, the CEO of Coca-Cola said, we’re not trying to deceive the public. We’re trying to work with institutions to promote active healthy living, and we are going to release all of the funding that we provided to scientists, universities, to health groups over the past five years.

And so they released a trove of data showing this extensive number of grants. And in that data, we saw that the American Academy of Pediatrics was in there, and Coke had provided something like $3 million to the Academy, at least over the past five years.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And how do the pediatricians feel?

ANAHAD O’CONNOR: So, the actual members of the Academy — and there’s more than 64,000 pediatricians who are part of this Academy — it’s very prestigious — a lot of them are very upset. When I spoke to them, they said they couldn’t believe that the Academy had partnered with Coke or worked with it to any extent, because sugary drinks are considered a very major factor in the obesity epidemic, especially among children.

These pediatricians see the effects of it firsthand. They see type 2 diabetes, hypertension. You know, all these diseases that used to occur in middle age and later in life, they see them in children now. And they think that sugary drinks are a primary influence of that. So, pediatricians were very upset.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And yet they are — here they are at a conference, and they’re carrying around bags that have Coke in it while they’re trying to tell their patients don’t feed your kids sugary drinks.

ANAHAD O’CONNOR: Yes, so some pediatricians said it was analogous to, you know, a major lung association group or university partnering with, you know, the tobacco industry. It just was completely contradictory.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what’s the correlation? Is there influence on academic research? You point to a case in Louisiana.

ANAHAD O’CONNOR: So there was a case in Louisiana at the Pennington Biomedical Center at Louisiana State University.

They actually were one of the largest recipients of Coke money. They took something like $7 million over the past five years. And they just recently released the results of a major worldwide study that looked at obesity in children and the major factors of the epidemic. And they found that some of the major causes were a lack of sleep, a lack of exercise, television

The one thing they didn’t mention was sugary drinks. And that seemed very striking, because you look at other independent research, and it’s all pointing to sugary drinks. But the universities and institutions that are taking Coke money, many of them are, you know, seeming to exclude sugary drinks from, you know, the obesity epidemic.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And how singular is Coke in this? I mean, in the past, there have been companies, industries, lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill. Certainly, that still happens. Are there other food companies or beverage companies that are trying this?

ANAHAD O’CONNOR: So, Coke is certainly part of several lobbying and trade groups where — that are — also include other large corporations and food and industry players.

But Coca-Cola really seemed to have been out front on this. I talked to one expert, Marion Nestle at NYU, who wrote a book called “Soda Politics” and studies the beverage industry and the food industry, and she said that she had never seen another corporation that had such a hand in so many public institutions.

You know, Coke has partnered with all of these academic and medical groups. They have partnered with the Boys and Girls Club. They have partnered with minority groups like the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation. And, you know, they’re winning loyalty and allies.

So, for example, when Michael Bloomberg, you know, tried to introduce his, you know, soda cap and restrictions in 2012, the beverage industry, supported by Coke, filed a lawsuit against Michael Bloomberg, and the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation actually filed amicus briefs supporting the beverage industry against Bloomberg.

And that was very shocking, because the minority communities have a disproportionately high prevalence of obesity, and, you know, they seemed to be able to benefit the most from soda restrictions. And yet these groups were siding with industry.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Anahad O’Connor of The New York Times, thanks so much for joining us.

ANAHAD O’CONNOR: Thank you for having me.

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