Coca-Cola cannot fix the underlying mentality of the obesity epidemic

By on January 30, 2013

In the past year or so, Coca-Cola has become America’s obesity scapegoat. This is partly due to our nation’s growing distrust of big businesses and the fact that that the brand is neatly packaged for crusading convenience. Nabisco may be responsible for junk food like Oreos, but the brand is also on other, less nefarious snack items like Wheat Thins.
Recently, I completely surprised a friend by telling her that Dasani and Vitamin Water are Coca-Cola products.

The global “Be OK” campaign, and will depict a series of activities that can burn off the 140 calories in a can of regular Coke.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhpK--XElhU

The global “Be OK” campaign will depict a series of activities that can burn off the 140 calories in a can of regular Coke. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhpK–XElhU

Alice Park wrote on the Time website about a study showing that “soda and other sugary drinks contribute to the obesity epidemic in children”. I won’t even discuss my skepticism about their research methods, but I do want to speculate on their choice to focus the study on children. It seems turbulent from the get-go: children experience erratic growth spurts and are more likely to be unreliable test subjects. The researchers claim that soft drinks are significant contributors to childhood weight gain, which I find shortsighted. Are they more significant than ice cream? Cheetos? Perhaps these researchers have evidence that they are, but Park certainly should have included such information in the article if it exists.

In the midst of such attacks, Coca-Cola has stepped up and taken a stand against obesity. On January 14, they released a two-minute ad campaign called “Coming Together,” in which they: confront the issue of obesity; describe the efforts they’re already making to combat it; and remind us that a calorie is a calorie and the rules are simple—if you consume more than you burn off, you gain weight. Another ad campaign launched during American Idol and will air during the Super Bowl pre-game show. It’s part of the global “Be OK” campaign, and will depict a series of activities that can burn off the 140 calories in a can of regular Coke.

My dad, born in 1947, grew up thinking that sodas were special treats and not the one-every-day kind. I remember watching Wonder Years, and thinking that there are a few things more adorable than Kevin Arnold asking Winnie Cooper to go get a soda with him. Even as a 90’s kid, I had a strict limit of one can of Coke per day. What’s changed since 1947, since Kevin and Winnie, or since I was a kid?

Coca-Cola certainly hasn’t reintroduced actual cocaine into their formula, or started forcing it down our throats. One of Coke’s major goals has been to help consumers make informed decisions through methods like putting calorie counts on the fronts of cans and bottles. However, I argue that consumers who make bad decisions are, in fact, informed. They see the calorie counts on the back of the can. They know that Diet Coke is healthier, just like they know that carrots are healthier than brownies, and they continue to make choices that lead to obesity. Coca-Cola and other companies, try as they might, can’t fix the underlying mentality and lack of accountability that are truly responsible for the obesity epidemic.

Laura Ann Tipps
Staff Writer
lab0405@uab.edu

Related Posts:

About UABkscope.com

 
  • HungryForFood

    “However, I argue that consumers who make bad decisions are, in fact, informed. They see the calorie counts on the back of the can. They know that Diet Coke is healthier, just like they know that carrots are healthier than brownies, and they continue to make choices that lead to obesity.”

    On what grounds is Diet Coke healthier? Simply because it has less calories? The issue is that a calorie is not just a calorie. There is the quality of all vitamins and minerals that come with that calorie.

    You make an argument against a research study that targets children. While I agree that more time should be spent investigating their methods (by you perhaps, as the author of this piece), there is a key point you missed. The patterns and behaviors that lead to obesity are learned as a child. You state that consumers are informed; however, Coke targets children, a population that by nature is uninformed.

    Instead of showing us how to burn off 140 totally empty calories, why doesn’t Coke work to push truly nutritious foods (VitaminWater doesn’t count)?

  • xCitationNeededx

    First, it’s pretty obvious that the reason you “won’t even discuss [your] skepticism about their research methods” is because you didn’t read the article and therefore couldn’t possibly even know what their research methods were. If you’re going to write an opinion piece, the least you could do is read the article so that your opinion will be an informed one. Granted, I haven’t paid to read it either, but I’m also not going to make it sound like I doubt their methods (and therefore, their conclusions).

    “Even as a 90’s kid, I had a strict limit of one can of Coke per day.”
    The kids in the research study were limited to one drink per day too, the kids drinking the sugary drinks gained more weight than the kids who drank the sugar-free ones. Obviously even in moderation it makes a significant difference (an average of 2 lbs more between groups).

    Coca-Cola has no real vested interest in curbing obesity; their only interest is maximizing profits. Making commercials about how you can burn the empty calories their drinks are pumping into you has no goal of actually making people thinner; it’s a PR move to improve their image so they can sell more Coke . If Coca-Cola cares so much about fighting obesity then why not do away with normal Coke entirely and only sell the healthier (which research suggests is debatable) Diet Coke?

    A similar situation: research has proven time and time again that smoking leads to emphysema and lung cancer. People still choose to smoke, but we don’t just write off the responsibility that the cigarette companies share in the matter. One of the big differences, however, is that cigarette companies are no longer allowed to target children with their commercials and their products carry warnings from the surgeon general acknowledging the proven risk the product carries.

    While I agree that people hold the majority of the blame for (to put it bluntly) getting fat, let’s not pretend that Coca-Cola is free from any responsibility here.

  • LAT

    One of the biggest concerns in the comments below seems to be that my claims about the research presented in Park’s article (a peripheral point in my own piece) were unfounded due to lack of investigation on my part. I just want to assure everyone that Park’s article included plenty of information on the researchers, their methods, and their conclusions for me to form an opinion without digging through the dozens of pages she probably read in order to provide that lovely summary. Her article is entitled “Cutting Out Soda Curbs Children’s Weight Gain, Studies Show,” and is easy to find online.

    HungryForFood:

    Yes, Diet Coke is healthier. . .than regular Coke, which is the only argument I made.

    If obesity behaviors are learned as a child (partially correct), then is it Coke’s responsibility to teach them instead of parents’ and caregivers’? I don’t buy that their ads target kids. I think they used to, but I haven’t seen one lately that gave me that impression.

    I don’t think it is Coke’s job to push fruits, vegetables, Lean Cuisine, or whatever other healthy options you favor. They’re a soda company. We don’t expect Smirnoff to advertise for Lipton, nor do we blame them when we get drunk on their vodka.

    xCitationNeededx:

    My comment on my Coke limit as a kid was unrelated to my discussion of the study. You’ve connected two points which were not meant for comparison and do not lend themselves to it. I’ve been either on the verge of “underweight” or halfway between it and “overweight” my whole life, because I maintained a balanced diet and exercised as much as I could, working around a serious illness. In adulthood, I’ve switched to diet beverages, but my success in not becoming an obese child was due to my parents’ guidance–not any action, or lack thereof, by a soda company.

    Your statement about Coke’s interests are subjective; we can’t read their minds. If we’re going to do away with regular Coke, let’s get rid of all cookies, ice cream, chips, alcohol, and cigarettes, too. Granted, I’d be fine with the cigarettes part, but if we’re getting rid of items that can be addictive and lead to obesity or other health problems, why stop at regular Coke? Maybe we should be beating down other doors besides theirs.

    I agree with your ideas about cigarettes. I think it’s kind of ridiculous that a country like ours, which has sophisticated research knowledge about the harmful effects of cigarettes, still allows them to be sold in stores. With alcohol, there is at least a point of healthy moderation–not so with cigs.

    I wouldn’t say that I take ALL the responsibility off of Coke, though I do applaud the small efforts they’ve made lately. I try not to waffle back and forth between two viewpoints in opinion pieces, but it’s obviously not a black-and-white issue. Please also keep in mind that, in this piece, I filled the maximum amount of space allotted. Sometimes, there simply isn’t room to say all you’d like to say.

    Most of all, thank you for your comments and for reading the article!

    • xCitationNeededx

      “Park’s article included plenty of information on the researchers, their methods, and their conclusions for me to form an opinion without digging through the dozens of pages she probably read in order to provide that lovely summary.”

      I read Park’s article before I posted. There is nowhere near enough information provided to make you skeptical of their methods. It is clear that you have no science background if you think that her four sentence explanation of the study (which really only gave the ages of the children, the number of children, the spacing of the soda distribution, and the fact that it was double-blinded) is enough to form an opinion on their methods. I, and anyone else reading your column, should be inclined to believe Park and the NEJM over someone whose only complaints are unfounded and yet to be given. Again, considering that you still have not even told us what your complaints are, it makes me skeptical that you even have any issues with their research methods and are not simply trying to bolster your argument by weakening their study with phantom complaints. And if your issue is space, then here’s a tip: don’t make snide remarks about someone else’s work unless you can back those remarks up with real arguments in the space you are given.

      “I don’t buy that their ads target kids. I think they used to, but I haven’t
      seen one lately that gave me that impression.”

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8V88hBsT0w That’s a video from June of an ex-Coke marketing executive discussing how the company pitches ads to any groups who happen to need the most encouragement to buy Coke, including kids. If you aren’t seeing any Coke ads right now, it probably means that they have plenty of kids guzzling their sodas; if those numbers fall, you can be sure the number of kid oriented Coke commercials will rise.

      “I don’t think it is Coke’s job to push fruits, vegetables, Lean Cuisine, or whatever other healthy options you favor. They’re a soda company. We don’t expect Smirnoff to advertise for Lipton, nor do we blame them when we get drunk on their vodka.”

      No, it’s not their job to push healthy choices; their job is absolutely to sell soda. It’s our job and the job of the government (to some extent) to push healthy choices. Do you want to know a big difference between Coke and Smirnoff? We don’t let kids drink Smirnoff. We restrict that unhealthy choice until you are old enough to know the consequences and make reasoned decisions about your consumption of it. Coke on the other hand is fully available to kids and by the time they reach a point in their lives that they can appreciate the consequences of its consumption, those consequences (many times) have already set in.

      “My comment on my Coke limit as a kid was unrelated to my discussion of the study. You’ve connected two points which were not meant for comparison and do not lend themselves to it.”

      No, those points are fully open to comparison because you presented your “strict limit of one can of Coke per day” as an anecdote in favor of the idea that it’s only the overconsumption of Coke that is bad for you, when the research presented clearly indicated otherwise. While it’s great that you were underweight as a child and your parents limited your consumption, not everyone will be so fortunate. This brings me back to my point about alcohol.

      Alcohol is, generally, good for you to consume in moderation. You can argue (even though research says otherwise) that Coke in moderation is okay as well. For both of these drinks, long-term overconsumption can cause or contribute to major health problems. In both of these cases, monitoring the child’s consumption can prevent their associated health problems. However, the percentage of apathetic parents who wouldn’t monitor such consumption has led us to prohibiting children under 21 from consuming alcohol, and, while the age limit may be debatable, few people would argue that this concept isn’t good for the health of those children who are not lucky enough to have parents help them make good decisions. So why should Coke be any different? Research has shown that, all other things being equal, even moderate consumption of soda contributes to weight gain. While I 100% agree that it is the job of the parents to help their kids lead healthy lifestyles, why do we punish those children who have bad parents by allowing them to continue to pursue unhealthy lifestyles?

      And yes, getting rid of Coke won’t fix the problem entirely, but the slippery
      slope that you claim banning Coke would lead to doesn’t have to occur for us to get positive results. Sure, cookies and ice cream make kids fat too, but
      cutting the Coke out of a kid’s diet who overconsumes Coke (drinking two cans a day, instead of the one) eliminates 300 calories. That’s 300 calories a day less that is being put into fat for inactive kids and 300 calories fewer that active kids have to burn to stay healthy. Also, since liquids don’t satiate you in the same way that foods do, you wouldn’t likely see an increase in the amount of food kids eat to replace those calories.

      I don’t think Coca-Cola is entirely to blame, but they certainly don’t deserve
      any sort of sympathy in our decisions to promote wellness in our society. It’s
      time that we stop blaming and guilt-tripping apathetic parents for teaching
      their children to eat unhealthily and becoming obese and time for us to start
      taking real action toward preventing this unhealthy behavior. After all, if the
      parents actually cared about your admonition, then we wouldn’t call them
      apathetic, and their children wouldn’t be obese.

%d bloggers like this: