Health advocates are not impressed with Coca-Cola's newest efforts to paint itself as part of the obesity solution, rather than the problem.
"All calories count. No matter where they come from, including Coca-Cola and everything else with calories," says the ad that aired on most major networks Monday night, stressing that the company offers more than 650 180-calorie or no-calorie drinks. "And if you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you'll gain weight."
Coca-Cola's two-minute ad, the first of several in the campaign, addressed what it called the "complex challenge of obesity" and lists a number of statistics. Coca-Cola says it has helped cut the average calorie-per-serving in U.S. beverages 22 percent in the last 15 years.
"The long-term health of our families and the country is at stake," says a soothing female voice.
During a time when soft drink beverage companies are under siege for the nation's rampant health issues and new legislation has been proposed to limit soft drink consumption – notably the New York health panel approved Mayor Bloomberg's ban on large sugary drinks that exceed 16 ounces and schools nationwide are banning soda – health experts like Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, are calling the move "a page out of Damage Control 101."
Jacobson told USA Today that the commercials are Coca-Cola's attempt to "forestall sensible policy approaches to reducing sugary drink consumption," including ideas for increasing taxes and instituting bans.
"The soda industry is under siege, and for good reason," Jacobson said. "This new advertising campaign is just a damage control exercise and not a meaningful contribution toward addressing obesity."
The soda giant is the world's largest beverage company and owns brands such as Sprite, Dr Pepper, Crush, Monster, and Fruitopia as well.
Nutritionists say soda is and will always remain a main source of obesity.
"Yes, other foods matter, but the biggest single source contributor to child and adult obesity in the USA is sugar-sweetened beverages," Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and one of the nation's top experts on beverage consumption, told USA Today.
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 comparable calories, according to government data.
Whether the public agrees or disagrees with the company's effort to get people thinking more critically about their health, the move certainly has people talking about the company.
The advertisement cloaked in social statement brings to mind Starbucks' use of "Coming Together" in which baristas scrawled the phrase on holiday-themed cups to urge compromise in the fiscal cliff saga. To many, it seemed more of a publicity stunt than anything else.
On Wednesday, Coca-Cola will launch another commercial during the popular reality show "American Idol." In that ad, dubbed "Be OK," the company will stress that burning off the 140 calories in a single can of Coca-Cola could be fun.
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