A decade ago, The Coca-Cola Company established the Beverage Institute for Health & Wellness, or BIWH, to raise awareness of facts and science related to beverages and their ingredients, as well as the importance of active, healthy lifestyles. The BIHW and its award-winning online platform — beverageinstitute.org — have since served as a trusted resource for health professionals (HPs), dietitians and nutritionists, food scientists, teachers and coaches and others worldwide by curating evidence-based information and educational materials on energy balance, sweeteners, hydration and other topics. More than 92 percent of the site’s content links to or is sourced from government agencies, food safety authorities, academics, scientists, health professionals and their societies, and other credible sources.

The BIHW also partners with leading education organizations to support educational programs that enable dietitians, nurses, pharmacists and other HPs to learn about the science of hydration, food and beverage ingredients, energy balance and active healthy living, motivational interviewing and coaching techniques and many other topics of interest to today’s health professionals. Programs are developed and presented by international experts in such fields as nutrition, dietetics, medicine, nursing, physical activity, behavior change, toxicology, epidemiology and food science.

We spoke with Joan Koelemay, a registered dietitian and BIHW’s education director and website editor, about the Beverage Institute’s past, present and future.

What was Coke’s initial vision for BIWH?

BIHW is our company’s principal platform for sharing the scientific evidence related to beverages, their ingredients and the importance of energy balance and active healthy lifestyles with health professionals and for engaging in health and wellness discussions. We believed it's important that the information shared with the public is grounded in fact, science and sensible dialogue. We also believe in Coke’s commitment to being a positive partner in addressing today’s most pressing health and wellbeing issues.

Who is your audience?

Health professionals are our primary audience. In addition, our own Coca-Cola system associates — Ambassadors is the term we use — are an important audience since they are our "first responders" to the questions raised by their families, friends and acquaintances. Our key audiences also include educators, as well as our customers, vendors and journalists.

Tell me about the education programs BIHW supports. How did they start and who they reach?

I sought funding to support evidence-based education programs for health professionals through BIHW shortly after joining the company in 2005. Although I had worked at a leading pediatric nutrition research center before joining Coca-Cola and knew a great deal about nutrition, I soon realized I had a huge knowledge gap when it came to beverage ingredients. And I learned I wasn’t alone. Focus groups conducted by the company and external groups found that most health professionals were unaware of what the scientific evidence actually showed about ingredients and health. And the more I learned and talked to experts, the more convinced I became that evidence-based information about ingredients needed to be made more widely available and accessible to busy health professionals. So I made the case to support professionally accredited education programs that enabled health professionals to get the facts — not only about ingredients but on a wide range of wellness topics — directly from recognized experts with accreditation authorized by approved Continuing Education Providers.

I’m proud that the Beverage Institute today remains a strong supporter of educational programs for health professional that explore wellness topics ranging from motivation, behavior change, stress management and best practices in weight management to food safety and even the role of happiness in health outcomes. And our educational impact has increased dramatically due to our support of  Gannett Education, parent of Nurse.com — the largest professional education provider for nurses in the U.S. — and ContinuingEducation.com, an education site for dietitians, health educators, fitness professionals and other professionals. In 2014 alone, the number courses completed by RNs, RDs, pharmacists and other HPs exceeded 300,000, and today more than 40,000 nurses know more about the safety and benefits of low-calorie sweeteners as a direct result of these programs.

What about your editorial content?

When the Beverage Institute was formed, there was no single website where you could find evidence-based information that provided “big picture” answers to questions related to beverage ingredients and active healthy living. So our website became that one-stop resource where you can find evidence based-information such as research papers, position statements, videos and other helpful resources from credible third-party sources pulled together in one place. Clearly the site is meeting a need, because our site traffic continues to grow every year. 

How has the BIHW evolved over the years?

Though global in scope from the outset, the Beverage Institute had only one website focused on raising awareness of evidence-based science in 2004. Today our focus is the same — we are all about science — but we’re now international, with Beverage Institutes in 10 countries, including the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, Southern Africa and Japan.

Has the proliferation of social media shaped your work?

Social media is changing the way everyone — including the Beverage Institute — communicates. We can now share information quickly and broadly. That can be a powerful tool for sharing the facts, but social media can also be used to spread misinformation on food ingredients, which is challenging. But such challenges are the catalysts by which the BIHW has and will continue to evolve. Consequently, we will continue our efforts to engage and innovate on the best ways to share the evidence.    

Are there key milestones or successes you can point to from recent years? What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud when I meet fellow dietitians or other health professionals who tell me how much they appreciate the Beverage Institute, both for our support of education programs and for maintaining a website with comprehensive, evidence-based information. As for milestones, our website has won awards for both high-quality content and superior design. I am also proud of the fact that the Gannett Education programs we support are so highly rated and appreciated by health professionals, and that more than 90 percent of our communications are focused on raising awareness of credible third-party resources and research.

How do you measure success?

Certainly one way to measure success is by the numbers. Our website has had more than 2.3 million visitors since 2010, and our site traffic, page views and time spent on our site are all growing each month. We also have nearly 9,000 more nurses and other health professionals participating in education programs every month and opting-in to receive the BIHW’s monthly electronic newsletter. And it’s important to note that the quality ratings for the education programs we support are consistently high. To me, personally, success is measured by making a difference. I read all comments health professionals share on the Gannett Education websites regarding the programs we support, and the overwhelming majority rate the programs of high quality, relevant to their practice and helpful in answering questions from patients, particularly on topics like low-calorie sweeteners.

What’s next for the BIHW?

Given how quickly misinformation can spread today and the increasing politicization of food issues and food ingredients, the need to share evidence-based science about our ingredients, our beverages and the benefits of active, healthy living is greater than ever. Looking forward, we hope to expand in three principal areas: 1) Health and wellness topics that our core audiences identify and have interest, including children and healthy aging; 2) The number of BIHW satellites across the globe; and 3) Our collaborative work with different sectors while staying true to our core audiences — health professionals and their societies. Let’s just say, the next 10 years for the BIHW and its satellites will be quite busy — our bottle of work remains quite full.