You’ve probably seen or heard about the new Coca-Cola “Coming Together” TV commercial released last week – some have applauded Coca-Cola’s “foresight” in responding to the ever-changing marketplace, some were skeptical and others were downright vitriolic!
Is Coca-Cola’s move a sign of positive things to come in the collaborative fight against obesity or just really well-done damage control? You be the judge:
While we are not going to wade into the fray with just our opinions (much as we love a good rant!), we will present some evidence that perhaps Coca-Cola is throwing soda under the proverbial bus in order to protect some increasingly lucrative wolves masquerading as sheep.
First, we will start by commending Coca-Cola for apologizing (in a roundabout way) and acknowledging on the public stage that sugar-sweetened beverages are harmful and have definitely contributed to the current obesity epidemic. We also agree with Coca-Cola that “all calories count” – not just those from soda. But what about the multitude of non-soda, sugar-sweetened beverages that Coca-Cola sells? Cola-Cola touts the fact that 180 of their 650 available beverages are no- or low-calories (including over 20 brands worldwide of bottled, filtered tap water)… but certainly the other 470 beverages are not all soda? While Coca-Cola owns popular juice brands like Odwalla and Minute Maid, the rest of these 470 products are sugar-sweetened beverages – whether pop, fruit, energy or sport drinks – the ingredient lists look the same. So they’re right, it’s not just about Coke, it’s also about the OTHER several hundred varieties of sugar water they sell!
It is good timing that the new issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has two articles looking at the current consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. When Han et al. (1) compared nutrient intake data from 1999 to present they found that while overall soda consumption seemed to decrease, the intake of non-traditional sugar-sweetened beverages like energy and sports drinks increased dramatically. For instance, the number of adolescents consuming > 500 kcal per day from energy/sports drinks tripled! While Coca-Cola may trumpet the decline in soda intake, adults still consume an average of 236 kcal per day from sugar-sweetened beverages. Young adults have the highest consumption – 338 kcal per day! Over 20% of adults drink at least one regular soda per day, 7% drink no-fruit-juice-containing fruit drinks and 6% report drinking energy/sport drinks daily (2). And we assume these are not the mini-cans – have you seen the size of a Powerade* lately?
So why is this concerning? Most people know that soda is not healthy, they know it is loaded with sugar BUT many people, because of clever marketing, believe that fruit drinks, sport drinks and sugar-enhanced vitamin waters ARE HEALTHY. And it appears intakes are changing as a result. But substituting Minute Maid Pink Lemonade for Coca-Cola is not a step in the right direction – one 20 oz bottle of Coke contains ~ 65 g of sugar… a similar sized bottle of lemonade contains 68 g. That’s nearly 17 teaspoons of sugar! Why else would the manufacturer list the serving size on the lemonade as only 8 oz? People are catching on, the advertising of Vitamin Water has led to a class action law suit, but we still have a long way to go. For entertainment value, and some disturbing insights, you can also check out what Stephen Colbert has to say about Coca-Cola and Vitamin Water. It’s the second or third segment in so you might have to watch the first part of the show but that is never a chore!
No Baloney’s advice? We admit it – we were a bit dazzled, in a deer-in-the-headlights kind of way, the first time we saw the Coming Together TV spot. You can almost feel yourself nodding along, agreeing with the commercial! But let’s face it – the #3 brand in the world that ranks #27 in respective market share and #50 in profits in the ENTIRE world might have ulterior motives. We know that sugar-sweetened beverage consumption has been linked to a multitude of problems – from obesity, to asthma (3); poor grades, inadequate sleep, sedentary habits and smoking in teens (4), and even to an increased risk of stroke (5); the list goes on…
We are firm believers that there is room for every manner of food in our diets – from cauliflower to cupcakes to cola – it’s not a matter of banning all unhealthy foods, but limiting their consumption and allowing consumers to make informed decisions. What we really don’t like about Coca-Cola’s latest marketing scheme is that they seem to throw cola under the bus because it gets most of the bad press when it comes to obesity. Not that we are absolving soda of its guilt, but what about Coca-Cola’s ongoing misrepresentation of other sugar-sweetened beverages in their corporate repertoire as healthy? These are the very fruit drinks, sugar-vitamin waters and sport beverages that are actually growing in popularity AND most certainly contributing to excessive calorie consumption. Kind of makes their “commitment” to reducing obesity seem at best mildly insincere and empty; at worst, it’s nothing more than duplicitous.
We have an idea! If they really want to be collaborative in finding a solution, Coca-Cola could try to address the increasingly ridiculous sizes of sugar-sweetened drinks available and increase the transparency of the nutrition information! We’ll leave you with this parody from Parks and Recreation…
- Han E, et al. Consumption patterns of sugar-sweetened beverages in the United States. J Acad Nutr Diet 2013; 113:453-53.
- Park S, et al. Characteristics associated with consumption of sports and energy drinks among US adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2010. J Acad Nutr Diet 2013; 113:112-9.
- Park S, Blanck HM, Sherry B, Jones SE, Pan L. Regular soda intake independent of weight status is associated with asthma among US high school students. J Acad Nutr Diet 2013; 113:106-11.
- Park S, et al. Self-reported academic grades and other correlates if sugar-sweetened soda intake among US adolescents. J Acad Nutr Diet 2012; 112:125-31.
- Bernstein AM, et al. Soda consumption and the risk of stroke in men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 95:1190-9.
*We wanted to keep the post consistent – Gatorade is actually a Pepsi product!