Who’s to Blame for Obesity? Coca-Cola Says, 'Not It!'

For the first time, Coca-Cola releases an ad campaign addressing the country's obesity epidemic.
Can soda be part of a healthy diet? (Photo: Tim Macphersen/Getty Images)
Jan 14, 2013· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

For the first time ever, Coca-Cola has released a commercial addressing the country’s obesity epidemic. Does that mean the ad begins with an admission of responsibility? Not quite. Instead, through some soaring background music and shots of healthy kids slow-running across soccer fields and into their parents’ arms, the sugary beverage manufacturer has positioned itself as America’s ally in the fight to get fitter. But critics aren’t buying it.

According to the Associated Press, Coke’s ad campaign, titled “Coming Together,” will begin airing today during commercial breaks on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. In the campaign, Coke acknowledges the nation’s obesity issues and catalogues the steps it’s taken to present healthier options to consumers; offering smaller cans, decreasing the amount of their sugar content, and putting more of their water and juice drinks into school vending machines.

Coke’s main point, however, seems to come at the end of the spot, when the voice-over states that obesity is caused by an excess of calories in general, no matter what their source. The implication is that calories from soda in particular are not any worse than other types of calories, and therefore practicing moderation is the way to prevent weight gain.

So does that mean Coke can be factored into a healthy diet as long as consumers aren't ingesting too many calories in general? Hardly, says Jeff Cronin, the director of communications for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

Cronin explains to TakePart, “The calories in soda aren't exactly like the calories in other foods. For starters, they are empty calories, since soda is bereft of vitamins, fiber and other nutrients. In studies, they have specifically been linked in increased incidence of weight gain in both adults and children, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.”

MORE: Another Reason Soda is a Downer

The center has been a long-standing opponent of the soft drink industry in general and Coca-Cola in particular. They even parodied the beverage manufacturer in a viral video based on Coke’s branded polar bears. But in CSPI’s version, the bears are morbidly obese and diabetic.

CSPI and other critics have characterized its latest ad campaign as simple “damage control,” Coke’s attempt to align itself with a health-focused agenda for the sake of appearances. It’s similar to what McDonald’s does when it opens up franchises inside of hospitals. Just the association with healthcare causes consumers to believe the food itself is actually healthier than it really is.

Opponents like CSPI state that meaningful contributions towards eliminating obesity don’t come in the form of feel-good ad campaigns, but in serious policy changes, like government-mandated bans on soft drinks in public buildings, including schools, as well as increased taxes for manufacturers.

Cronin says, “Excise taxes on sugary drinks could raise billions for health programs and, if high enough, could make a dent in consumption.”

We don’t see Coca-Cola volunteering to do that any time soon, but CSPI and others like it have championed county initiatives to enforce such measures.

Coke's attempts to curtail the availability of sugar in their products is a step in the right direction, but it's far from curing our nation's problems with obesity, many of which remain directly connected to the soft drink industry.

Do you think Coke in moderation could be a part of a "healthy diet"? Let us know in the Comments.