Obesity Movement Criticizes Coke’s Obesity Ads

Coca-Cola unveiled a new advertising campaign this week in which the company weighs in on its role in the obesity epidemic — and earned a heavy dose of criticism from many in the obesity movement as a result.

In the two-minute ad titled “Coming Together,” Coke says it is working to reverse obesity by offering consumers a number of low-or-no calorie beverages and smaller portion sizes. But it also says “all calories count, no matter where they come from” and “if you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you’ll gain weight.” Coke also unveiled a 30-second spot that promotes “140 Happy Calories” found in a can of Coke, and argues people can burn the calories off through activities such as walking their dog.

Many people in the obesity movement responded negatively to the ads. Leader Dana Woldow wrote in BeyondChron that “this bizarre PR effort to rebrand Coke as actually caring about its customers' health should win some kind of award.”

Food industry expert Marion Nestle wrote the ads represent “an astonishing act of chutzpah, explainable only as an act of desperation to do something about the company’s declining sales in the U.S.” She added that if the company was serious about obesity, it would take steps such as reducing its marketing efforts to children and minorities and stop opposing taxes on sugary drinks, a suggestion echoed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman called the ads both “smart” and “deceitful,” noting that while it’s good that Coke is recognizing its role in the obesity epidemic, it’s important to remember that the company is still selling sugary drinks. “Seven percent of our calories come from soda — it's the biggest single source in our diet. And the most harmful,” he said.

Meanwhile, a YouTube user using the name John Pemberton (the moniker of the guy who invented Coca-Cola) posted a “honest” version of the two-minute ad. “Consuming large amounts of rapidly digested sugar and high fructose corn syrup causes a spike in blood sugar and insulin, which can lead to inflammation and insulin resistance, both of which may increase your risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer,” a narrator says, speaking over Coke’s original video footage.

To be fair, Coca-Cola wasn’t the only major soda company feeling the heat from the obesity movement this week. PepsiCo continued to be criticized by obesity advocates — or specifically, the company’s new celebrity spokeswoman Beyoncé — for the singer’s $50 million endorsement deal.

Bittman in particular took the singer to task, noting that she went from helping promote First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to “renting her image to a product that may one day be ranked with cigarettes as a killer we were too slow to rein in.

What do you think of Coke’s new campaign? How about Beyoncé’s decision to promote Pepsi?

In Other Movement News…

Big City School Districts Team Up For Healthy Meals

School districts in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Orlando, Fla., are teaming up to combine their purchasing power for healthy meals and lower prices, the Los Angeles Times reports. The districts also will work together to develop more eco-friendly practices.

Obesity Down for Preschoolers in NYC

A new study finds that the obesity rate for low-income preschoolers in New York City dropped from about 19 percent to 16 percent over nine years, the Los Angeles Times reports. But in L.A., the rate increased from 17 percent to more than 21 percent, although rates are back down to about 20 percent.

Obesity Rates Decline for New Hampshire Children

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that childhood obesity rates have decreased for preschool-age children in New Hampshire. About 14.2 percent of kids are obese, down from 15.6 in 2003, a drop that officials say is modest but encouraging.

WIC Funding Helps Reduce Obesity

Changes to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) that provide more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and nonfat milk is helping reduce obesity among participating preschoolers in New York.

Childhood Obesity Linked to More Health Problems

A new University of California Los Angeles study finds that obese children and teenagers are more at-risk for health problems than previously thought. Compared to non-overweight children, obese youngsters are at nearly twice at risk for having three more reported medical, mental or developmental conditions.

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