Coca-Cola Continues Anti-Obesity PR Push Amid Evidence Linking Soda To Health Problems

Coca-Cola unveiled a new anti-obesity campaign Wednesday, pledging to better regulate its advertising to children and ensure clear nutritional labeling is available on its drinks around the world.

In the U.S., calorie counts for Coca-Cola products are displayed on the front of drink labels and no-calorie diet versions of drinks are readily available, but in other countries, there’s not as much consistency in product labeling and the availability of diet drinks. Coke’s new push aims to remedy that, and will also halt all advertising targeted at audiences younger than 12.

Coke, which is based in Atlanta, also announced Wednesday that it would contribute $3.8 million to support nutrition education and physical activity programs in Georgia. Most of the money will go toward the Georgia SHAPE program, an initiative that works with k-12 school districts to increase students’ physical activity, and the Centers of Hope program, which connects at-risk students to physical activity and leadership development programs.

While the pledges and donations help improve Coke’s public image, they don’t address the core of the the company’s public health problem: the increasing body of literature that has linked soda and other sugary drink consumption to diabetes, obesity and even death. Even diet drinks — which Coke lauds as some of its healthier options — have been tied to negative health effects, like an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

And despite Coke’s public relations campaign, the company, through the American Beverage Association (ABA), has historically fought against public health efforts to increase government regulation of the soda industry. The ABA has lobbed against soda taxes and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large soft drinks.

Coke’s most recent efforts come on the heels of an anti-obesity advertising campaign launched by the company in January, which featured TV ads that acknowledged America’s obesity problem and pointed out steps the Coke had taken — including creating smaller portion sizes for its drinks and sponsoring children’s programs such as the Boys and Girls Club — to address the issue. The ad ends by explaining that “all calories count, no matter where they come from,” a claim that sparked an outcry among critics, who point out that calories from soda are entirely empty calories from added sugar and contain no nutritional value.