Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY
A new Coca-Cola ad, which encourages people to come together to fight obesity, is drawing fire from consumer advocates and obesity experts.
The two-minute video, appearing Monday night on several national cable networks, talks about the company's range of beverages and how the industry voluntarily changed its offerings in schools to primarily waters, juices, and low- and no-calorie options.
"All calories count. No matter where they come from including Coca-Cola and everything else with calories," the ad says. "And if you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you'll gain weight."
Critics say the company is doing damage control to combat the widespread belief that sugary beverages contribute to obesity.
Currently about two-thirds of adults and a third of children in this country are overweight or obese. A diet high in added sugars is linked to many poor health conditions, including obesity, high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Males consume an average of 178 calories a day from all sugary drinks, including sodas, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and sweetened bottled waters; females consume 103 calories, according to government data.
"The Coca-Cola Company still remains one of the major causes of obesity in the USA and globally," says Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and one of the nation's top experts on beverage consumption. "Yes, other foods matter, but the biggest single source contributor to child and adult obesity in the USA is sugar-sweetened beverages."
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer group, says the new ad "is a page out of Damage Control 101, which is try to pretend you're part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
"This is a public relations move to assuage public concern at a time when they are being attacked from every direction. Legislators are proposing taxes on sugary drinks, schools have kicked out full-calorie soft drinks, and New York City is imposing a size limit on soft drinks served at restaurants. The public is beginning to understand that in the volume soda often is consumed, it's a harmful product," Jacobson says.
Coca-Cola's Stuart Kronauge said in a prepared statement: "Obesity is complex, and it requires partnership and collaboration to help solve it. We have an important role to play in the effort to find solutions that work for everybody."