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Freedom of information as a research tool: Conversations between Coca Cola and the CDC / Faculty of Education and Arts / Events / The University of Newcastle, Australia


The School of Humanities and Social Science (HASS) is hosting visiting international scholar Dr Nason Maani Hessari who will give a seminar based on his article that revealed the relationship between corporate giant Coca Cola and the US public health agency the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Using Freedom of Information techniques, the article showed how Coca Cola sought to direct public policy in its favour by influencing the CDC and World Health Organisation, highlighting the need for greater transparency and clearer policies on engaging with such industries.

The seminar is free and open for anyone to attend and will be held Tuesday 25 June 12.30 – 1.30pm, Room W243, Callaghan campus.

Dr Maani is a Research Fellow within the Department of Health Services Research and Policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. His research focuses on public health and in particular corporate influences on public health, corporate social responsibility, media discourse and policy influence.

The talk will cover Freedom of Information as a novel data source, working with advocates to obtain the data, developing an analysis plan, attempting to publish it (not always straightforward), dealing with media requests upon publication, and subsequent impact.

Dr Maani said that using the Freedom of Information Act to access information can be a challenging method of obtaining data.

“It is something that requires persistence and even then, the responses can be inconsistent. In some cases there were extensive delays from the date of request to receiving items, in some cases months at a time. We reported this process in full in the paper so that others could see the challenges and timelines of this type of approach,” he said.

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Through using the Freedom of Information Act Dr Maani was able to access emails between Coca Cola and the CDC.

“We discovered that Coca Cola had close relationships with key staff at the CDC and they used these connections to try to shift the debate from diet to exercise (and so away from their products), to share Coca-Cola funded research, and even asking and receiving advice from CDC staff on how best to lobby the WHO to prevent them supporting a sugar tax, Dr Hessari said.

Behavioural scientist with the School of Humanities and Social Science at UON, Associate Professor Penny Buykx, says that Dr Maani’s seminar will have broad appeal to people from health, humanities and social sciences backgrounds.

She said that Dr Maani’s visit will enhance public health research already underway at the University of Newcastle.

“Dr Maani’s visit is an opportunity for us to draw together research interests, not only within HASS, but across Faculties,” Associate Professor Buykx said. “For example, I have an interest in how the health and social consequences of alcohol use are ‘framed’ by different groups, while Professor Kyp Kypri from the School of Public Health & Medicine is undertaking work to examine industry activity in relation to government.”

“Sharing our current ideas and methods with Dr Maani will enable us to develop these and to plan for future projects. We are interested to work with other UON colleagues in this area, and so we also hope that the seminars which form part of Dr Hessari’s visit will encourage a wider conversation.”

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For further information contact Associate Professor Penny Buykx, 4921 7786.

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