Coca-Cola and the fight against obesity

Over the last few weeks, the soda giant, Coca-Cola has been all over the media touting their new commitment in the fight against obesity. Is this a real attempt at being part of the solution or just a public relations stunt to dodge criticism of their sugary, obesigenic products? My guess is the latter.

Let’s take a look at their efforts.

First, Coke released a few commercials such as this, putting all the focus of the obesity problem on individuals and their lack of physical activity.  Note: there is not a single obese person is this commercial:

Next, Coke introduced this infographic, which blames obesity on our consumption of chicken dishes, grain based desserts, and breads, conveniently leaving out the fourth biggest calorie contributor to the American diet: You guessed it, sugar-sweetened beverages.  It also focuses on the old, outdated concept that all calories are created equal, and that calories-in vs. calories-out equates to weight loss. As a registered dietitian, I can assure you that there is a big difference between consuming 100 calories worth of the hyperprocessed carbohydrates found in soda, and 100 calories worth of high-fiber fruit or beans.

obesity-infographic-900

Then, just a few weeks ago, Coke began to lay out the details of their new global obesity-fighting campaign.  This plan includes:

  • Offering low or no-calorie beverage options in every market
  • Making calories more visible on the front of the bottle
  • Stopping advertising to children under 12 everywhere in the world (for years they have claimed to already be doing this in the US, though it has been proven that they are not very good at at it)
  • Promoting exercise and healthy lifestyles

Coke’s website indicates a few examples of these efforts to promote physical activity:

  • Coke will give out Coca-Cola branded soccer balls at major events
  • Coke will distribute pedometers via their MyCokeRewards program
  • Coke is asking families to be active, by turning fitness activities into votes for parks to win recreation grants
  • Coca-Cola “happiness trucks” will drive around “inspiring people to get on their feet and move to the beat” by playing music at dance and fitness events across the country
  • Sponsoring a youth baseball clinic

I would argue that at least half of these supposed “commitments to contribute to health” easily qualify as more marketing for Coke. Furthermore, none of these efforts address the real issue: Americans consume too many calories from sugary drinks.

If Coca-Cola REALLY wanted to be part of the anti-obesity solution, they could:

  • Reduce portion sizes instead of lobbying against efforts like the one introduced by Mayor Bloomberg in New York City.
  • Support soda taxes
  • Stop fighting attempts to remove vending machines and soda marketing in schools
  • Stop infiltrating professional health organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics with biased research that ignores the proven link between sugar-sweetened beverages and poor health outcomes.

But, why would they? Their business is to sell more Coke.

As if you needed any more reasons to call this campaign a sham, I’ll give you three:

1. Coke continues to form partnerships, encouraging the consumption of excessive amounts of sugary soda.

2. Coke finds sneaky ways to disguise more marketing as an act of philanthropy.

3. Coke’s CEO, Muhtar Kent, participated in this VERY uncomfortable interview with CBS, where he seems to be having trouble answering basic questions about the controversy surrounding their anti-obesity campaign.