Leading food nutrition academic Marion Nestle tells BeverageDaily.com that she considers Coke’s new anti-obesity advertising drive ‘Coming Together’ an ‘astonishing act of chutzpah’.
The Coca-Cola Company trailed its new advertising campaign on YouTube (where it appeared on Monday) alongside this text: “The well-being of our families and communities concerns everyone. And finding a solution will take continued effort from all of us.
“Watch to learn how we can all make a real difference. At Coca-Cola, we believe when people come together good things happen,” the beverage giant added.
Coming together, right now…
Coke says in the video that it can play an important role in the anti-obesity fight, notably in a cross-industry drive to supply more waters, juices and low-calorie sodas to schools.
Across its portfolio of over 650 beverages, it said it now offered 180 low and no-calorie ‘choices’, with average calorie per serving cut by around 22% over the last 15 years.
Smaller, ‘portion controlled sizes’ for top brands would be available in 90% of the US by the end of the year, Coke added, while front-of-pack calorie levels were now clearly stated.
“Beating obesity will take action by all of us, based on one simple, common sense fact,” a female narrator says in a voiceover.
“All calories count, no matter where they come from – including Coca-Cola and everything else with calories. If you eat and drink more calories that you burn off, you’ll gain weight.”
‘What on earth did it cost?’
But Prof. Marion Nestle, from the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University said she thought Coke’s video advert (which you can view here ) was “an astonishing act of chutzpah”.
“What on earth does something like that cost?” she asked rhetorically, in comments made to BeverageDaily.com.
“If the company really wanted to do something to help prevent obesity, it would stop targeting its ‘drink Coke’ marketing to kids, stop marketing to low-income minorities, stop lobbying and spending a fortune to defeat soda taxes and caps on soda sizes.”
Nestle said the soda giant should also stop fighting attempts to remove vending machines from schools, and fighting research linking sodas to poor diet and weight gain.
She added: “One more: how about stopping pushing Coke in developing countries where rates of obesity and related conditions are skyrocketing? And stop charging higher prices for smaller sized sodas.”
'Usual industry critics...'
But a Coca-Cola Company spokesman hit back, stating that there were other public health experts "out there than the usual industry critics like Popkin [see view below] and Nestle".
"It’s interesting to point out there are other independent, third party experts who are actually supportive of our efforts. These people have spoken out publicly as well," he said.
"Not everyone is going to agree with all we do, but one thing we can all agree on is obesity is a serious issue. Everyone in this country has dealt with this issue or knows someone who has. It’s an issue that affects us all," the spokesman added.
"And to tackle obesity, we will all need to work together," he added. "As a leader in the beverage industry, we are committed to helping address obesity. And, we have a proven track record when it comes to working together with willing partners to affect positive change."
‘Which side of the cup?’ – Dr. Barry Popkin
Prominent public health professor Dr. Barry Popkin, from the University of North Carolina, told BeverageDaily.com that Coke had definitely reduced the kcal/ounce count of beverages sold, through marketing diet products more than others.
“But at the same time they are still only doing this in just a few countries and globally are doing the opposite,” Popkin said.
“Secondly, what they sell in the US is a lot of sugary beverages that hurt our health. So which side of the cup?”
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is also sceptical about Coke’s new campaign, with executive director Michael Jacobson lambasting it Monday as “damage control exercise, and not a meaningful contribution toward addressing obesity”.
“What the industry is trying to do is forestall sensible policy approaches to reducing sugary drink consumption, including taxes, further exclusion from public facilities, and caps on serving sizes such as the measure proposed by Mayor Bloomberg,” he said.
Coke comes out fighting
In a statement sent to BeverageDaily.com this evening, the Coke spokesman rounded-up a selection of "third party" experts whom he said appreciated the company's anti-obesity efforts.
- Jeff Stier, National Center for Public Policy Research (comments to Forbes):
“Having watched the commercial several times, I can’t put my finger on any justifiable reason the activists are so up in arms. The actual language of the ad is scientifically accurate and encourages healthy dialogue. It points out that obesity is caused by consuming more calories than we burn, and that calories come from many sources, including Coca-Cola.
"It also touts the company’s no and low-calorie options, its continued support for programs that promote active lifestyles, and its efforts to make sure consumers know how many calories are in each product.”
- Dr. Russell Pate, professor with the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina (Yahoo):
"I think we have millions of Americans trying to eat down to their level of inactivity, and it's not working well. I believe strongly we will have to increase the physical activity level of our population if we want to overcome the obesity epidemic that we are currently challenged by."
The Coca-Cola Company spokesman told BeverageDaily.com that the firm had already made big efforts to combat obesity: working with schools to voluntarily remove full calorie soda from all schools (effecting a 90% reduction in beverage calories), joining the First Lady and Let’s Move, and committing to putting front-of-pack calorie labels on bottles and cans to make calorie information easier to notice
"We are also putting calorie information and messages on vending machines to let people know how many calories are in each beverage before they choose," he added.
Military-style fitness classes
Coke was also working with the mayors of Chicago and San Antonio, the spokesman said. "For example, in Chicago we are creating Coca-Cola Troops for Fitness and supporting returning military US. veterans to teach military-style fitness classes and other nutritional techniques to families in communities most in need of wellness services."
Working with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), Coke also supported a program called Triple Play, which had encouraged over one million children to eat a balanced diet and become more physically active, he added.
"We’re doing this because we, along with our industry partners, have a role to play in this fight, and we welcome willing collaborators to work together to help solve this issue," he said.