Is Coke's anti-obesity campaign the real thing?

The company is making 4 'global commitments' to combat the epidemic. Critics see the strategy as just another effort to increase sales.

By Jonathan Berr May 8, 2013 12:25PM
A bottle of Coca Cola is displayed at a market on April 16, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. (© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)Coca-Cola (KO), which is coming under increasing pressure from activists concerned about obesity, on Wednesday vowed to do its part to combat the global epidemic. Its efforts were immediately condemned as an empty public-relations gesture by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The Atlanta beverage giant made what it calls four "global commitments" to offer low- or no-calorie beverages in every market, provide nutritional information on the front of every package, support programs to encourage physical activity and not advertise its products to children younger than 12.  

Not surprisingly, the CSPI wasn't impressed.

"Coca-Cola's campaign is a campaign to sell more Coca-Cola, and not a campaign to combat obesity," Jeff Cronin, a CSPI spokesman, wrote in an email to MSN Money, adding that the company is trying to head off government restrictions on soda sales. "Coke's main problem is that its core product causes obesity, diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay, gout, and other health problems. Those problems can't be advertised away."

A Coca-Cola spokesperson couldn't be reached for comment.

When it comes to obesity, Coca-Cola is in a bind.

On one hand, the company can't hide from the fact that far too many people are overweight. A study released last year by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation predicted that nearly half of Americans will be obese by 2030 if they don't change their ways, as reported by Reuters. The economic burden of the disease to society is an eye-popping $147 billion to $210 billion.

Coca-Cola, however, has to defend its core product, which it can't from a nutritional perspective, especially the full-calorie varieties.

The one argument that Coca-Cola can point to is that people drink far less soda than they used to years ago. Per-capita consumption has dropped for eight straight years and now is at levels not seen since 1996, according to Beverage Digest data cited by Advertising Age.

Coke leads the soft drink market with a 17% share, followed by Diet Coke, which has a 9.4% share. PepsiCo's (PEP) Pepsi ranks third with an 8.9% share, Beverage Digest says. For Coca-Cola, it'll be hard to avoid the fact that fighting obesity and ensuring the growth of its core product are strategies at odds with each other.

Jonathan Berr holds a small position in Coca-Cola. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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75Comments
May 8, 2013 1:23PM
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Growing up, Coke was a treat and was rarely served with a meal.  But it wasn't like it was shunned, either.  We drank it after a little league game, had Coke-floats for dessert, or just occasionally had one "because."  There was no "Diet Coke."  There was Tab, but the only people who drank it were diabetics... and I don't remember anyone saying back then that Coke is what made them fat (especially since I remember very few fat people from back then).  Yes, we knew it could cause cavities, as anything with sugar could, but that's why we also brushed our teeth at nights.

 

Why in the world do we give any attention to these stupid advocacy groups who are so bent on protecting us from ourselves?!?  It's just stupid.

 

Too much of anything is bad for you... drink your Coke guilt free.  Enjoy it.  Just use common sense and realize that if you drink too much of it and drink it while eating too much that you will get fat.  And if you don't brush your teeth, especially if you drink a lot of soda and eat a lot of candy, not only will you be fat, but you will also develop lots of cavities and maybe even loose teeth.

 

Now, where is my millions of dollars for imparting such wisdom and saving tons of dollars in research?

May 8, 2013 1:25PM
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They are in the business of selling soft drinks. If they were concerned with obesity, they would sell exercise machines, but they are not. The decisions made by those who consume a product do not inherently make a product bad or evil. When people begin to take responsibility for their own actions and decisions, this is when you will see obesity and health problems decline. But in the mean time, you can't force people to do what they don't want, nor to make them purchase things they don't desire, at least not if you want them to remain believing they are still free. 

Truthfully, I am much more concerned about the safety of no-calorie sweeteners and highly processed ingredients. 
May 8, 2013 1:36PM
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Has the whole frikin world gone crazy?

Coke is responsible for obesity?

The tobacco industry is responsible for lung cancer?

Wine and beer producers are responsible for making people drunk?

The list goes on and on.

Is personal responsibility and common sense a thing of the past?

Are you responsible for your neighbors actions?

May 8, 2013 1:31PM
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How about people remember how to work-out or go outside and play. Maybe eat better. People are quick to blame these companies for selling products.

 

Eat less. Be more active. Kick your kids outside and off the gaming consoles. Stop blaming others for general laziness.

May 8, 2013 1:48PM
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Oh yes. The coke made you fat. It brought itself into your house when you weren't looking, forced itself into your hand, and then made you pour it down your throat. 

You don't want it making you fat? Here's an idea....take some personal responsibility and don't consume it! 

But no. Sitting around waiting for someone else to take care of  your problems is the American dream isn't it? 
May 8, 2013 2:14PM
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Leave Coke alone. It's not their job to regulate a person's intake. If someone doesn't take personal responsibility for themselves and what they put into thier body it's their doing, not Coke's.
May 8, 2013 1:46PM
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I see a lot of obese people that drink diet coke or diet pepsi. Why are they going after coke when coke is only 140 calories and pepsi is 150 calories. Maybe we should shut down all the Golden Corral Buffets I'm sure they cause obesity.
May 8, 2013 2:01PM
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ANYTHING TAKEN IN EXCESS CAN HURT YOUR HEALTH!!!  Coke is not responsible for obesity   People make their own choices and limiting the free choice of the majority to protect the minority is not what should be done.  You have all these Tax Payer Sponsored Junk Science studies that prove absolutely nothing. You have Physicians that made radical statements about the dangers of various products based on their personal likes and dislikes. I have been drinking Coke for the past 50  years and I am not overweight nor am I unhealthy. I exercise and eat a balanced diet.  Fat people are fat because they make that choice. Fat kids are fat because of the choices made by their parents and their own free choices.
May 8, 2013 2:42PM
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Coke has been around well over a hundred years.  Why is it just now making people obese?  Give me a break, this is another asinine attempt to regulate and control every aspect of our lives.  I think we should start an advocacy group against advocacy groups.
May 8, 2013 2:39PM
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Just an FYI, every 12oz can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar in it.  That equates to 1.37568 ounces.  The only reason the body can take that much sugar at once is because Coke has phosphoric acid added to it.  This is a proprietary amount (18mg of phosphorous/100mL), and in fact, only accounts for 3% of your daily values.  I drink Coke and beer, but I also work out 4 times a week and play ice hockey twice a week.  Sugar is a great source of fuel but like any metabolic fuel, if it is not used it becomes fat.  I still think it's worse for your health to be an angry a-hole all day.
May 8, 2013 2:06PM
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WAKE UP BTHDS.  it's not the coke, pepsi, DIET anything, that is making you FAT. it's the HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP & ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS & GROWTH HORMONE ADDITIVES that is in almost EVERY product that you SHEEPLE put into your pieholes every chance you get that is making you obese.  read the bloody labels.  YOU PUT MIRACLE-GRO(OR SOME SUCH) ON YOUR GARDEN OR PLANTS?  MAKES THEM BIG AND FAT, RIGHT?  YOU EAT IT THEN, RIGHT?  SAME CRAP MAKES YOU BIG AND FAT.  END OF STORY.  your family of four would probably lose more than 100 pounds by years' end if you didn't eat anything with ONE of those ingredients missing.  the nation could lose maybe a BILLION pounds if eating products with ALL THREE gone.  SO WHAT if dupont, monsanto, dow chemical, pioneer feeds, etc., go out of business;  they are the ones that have been POISONING everyone the globe over for the last fifty plus years or since their inception.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK PEOPLE, YOU MIGHT JUST LIVE TO SEE THE NEXT SUNRISE.
May 8, 2013 3:18PM
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People are fat because they eat too much and don't exercise.
May 8, 2013 1:50PM
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WHATEVER! Now were killin the world with Water Bottles!
May 8, 2013 2:28PM
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   Is Coca Cola force feeding this to people? Some people have to say now and then it wouldn't kill me to have a salad.
May 8, 2013 3:02PM
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when are we going to take responsibility for ourselves and our children .. grow up .. big business is not responsibly for societies poor choices ...
May 8, 2013 2:44PM
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We rarely had Coke when I was growing up.  We couldn't afford it.

 

As an "adult" when I started worrying about calories, I drank Tab.  Now I drink Diet Coke, "Just for the taste of it."  Really.

 

Many people forget the fact that if you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.  It's not fair to blame any one food or drink.

May 8, 2013 3:20PM
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coke makes a rpoduct, if you you like it, you buy it at your discretion, i dont see it as their job to control your consumption. eveyrhting in this counry seems to be someone elses fault. its hilarious, OOOH im fat cuz of mcdonals! no your fat cuz you have no self control at mcdonalds, or anywhere else for that matter.
May 8, 2013 3:15PM
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Also soda used to have real sugar now it's high-fructose corn syrup which is far worse- thank your local congressman for approving that corn growing subsidy for farmers- modern politicians do what's best for their pet projects which is shameful to the American Public
May 8, 2013 3:44PM
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These dietitians keep saying that calories make people fat.

Do the dietitians remember that calories also supply energy?

Ever wonder why people on diets don't have any energy?

These "eat healthy" organizations seem to have no clue about the value of food.  These organizations look at one small aspect, and ignore the other aspects.

Rock

 
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