by Marion Nestle
Oct 2 2009

Coca-Cola reveals calories?

Well, sort of reveals.  Coca-Cola announces that it will put calories on the front of its packages (so you don’t have to search for and put on glasses to read the Nutrition Facts).  You can see what the label will look like in the story in USA Today.


This sounds good but I view this action as another end run around FDA’s proposed regulations.  In March 2004, the FDA proposed to require the full number of calories to be placed on the front of food packages likely to be consumed by one person, like a 20-ounce soda for example (see figure).  A 20-ounce soda is 275 calories, not 100.


If Coca-Cola followed that FDA proposal, a label of a 2-liter bottle would have to say 800 Calories right on the front of the package.

This idea got stuck in Bush administration but there’s a good chance the new folks at FDA might take it up again.

Is Coca-Cola serious about helping people avoid obesity?  If so, maybe it could send out a press release distancing itself from those consumer-unfriendly ads run by the Center for Consumer Freedom (see previous post).

Here’s another question: Does Coca-Cola fund the CCF directly or indirectly through the American Beverage Assocation or some other industry trade group?  I will believe that they might really have an interest in consumer health when I know they have no connection whatsoever to CCF and its current ad campaigns.


That’s great news! We hope they display the truth.

  • david
  • October 3, 2009
  • 1:02 am

I wish companies that do directly fund the CCF

like Outback and Red Lobster could be linked

thru the CCF to the other campaigns they are carrying out

attacking unions, shilling for the payday loan industry,
shilling for the indoor tanning association, etc.

Maybe they would be shamed into leaving like Nike

from the Chamber of Commerce.

By the way, Rachel Maddow, last night, really called him out.

  • Bobby
  • October 3, 2009
  • 8:27 am

My coworker had some instant-food thai soup meal-in-a-bowl and with my usual annoyingly level of curiosity I checked out the nutrition facts label. 850 mg sodium, seemed bad but not outta line with most instant-crap foods, then I noticed that the serving size was 1/2 bowl. uh-huh. So this not very big bowl of soup had a whole days supply of sodium. How very convenient. And how unfortunate for the coworker who thought she was getting a decent, moderate-sized lunch, when really she was getting stroke-in-a-bowl.

It is time for some halfway-decent regulation (not that “voluntary practices” crap) to be imposed on the instant/fast/processed food industry, before they kill us all with their many deceptive practices. I seriously believe that the people who think up these ways to deceive the public deserve to get some serious jail time.

  • Janet Camp
  • October 3, 2009
  • 9:05 am

I keep harping that “it’s the serving size, stupid”. Coke knows perfectly well, from the gazillions of dollars industry spends on physchology, that people will tend to simply see the “100 calories” and not follow across to the “8 oz.” serving size (or not register the impact of that information on what’s actually in the bottle).

The good news is that my husband actually turned the placemat over at McDonald’s and discovered how many calories are in the teeny weeny regular sized burger. He was shocked and this may finally be the end of his “junk lunch” days. It DOES help to give people accurate information, but we cannot allow the industry to find sneaky ways of seeming to comply.

  • Marisa
  • October 3, 2009
  • 2:55 pm

When you state, ” In March 2004, the FDA proposed to require the full number of calories to be placed on the front of food packages likely to be consumed by one person, like a 20-ounce soda for example.” You then go on to say that Coke would have to put 800 Calories on the front of the package. You are being a bit misleading here. A 20oz soda has about 250 Calories. A two-liter bottle may have that many Calories, but one person does not usually consume an entire two-liter bottle in one sitting. It is usually divided up into perhaps 4 servings. Still a lot of Calories, yes, but since one person wouldn’t drink the whole thing at once, from what you said, Coke would not have to put 800 Calories on the front of the package. My main complaint here is that you just implied that a 20oz bottle of Coke has 800 Calories, since that was your only example. Love your website, but please try not to be so misleading.

  • Liz
  • October 3, 2009
  • 6:01 pm

I really don’t see how that tiny notification of calories on that bottle will help clear up how many calories the person is consuming. The average consumer will see 100 calories and assume that 100 calories is what they’re drinking…not 800! It defenitely needs some work. Now if only we can think of a way to get people to stop drinking soda, that’ll be the day!

  • Anthro
  • October 3, 2009
  • 7:41 pm

I just visited the CCF website! Bizarre! They absolutely slander Peter Singer, who is a respected philosopher and professor, whether or not one agrees with his views on animals. I also watched Maddow’s piece on Berman and that was great! Thanks for the links readers.

Oh yeah, they alsoa eviscerate Cass Sunstein, a respected legal scholar, as well and promote the republican’s effort to block his appointment to the Obama administration. He was confirmed on Thursday.

Marion Nestle
  • Marion
  • October 3, 2009
  • 9:07 pm

@Marisa: I wish that one person would not drink 800 calories worth of soda but plenty of evidence indicates that doing so is not uncommon. A supersized portion of soft drinks at a movie theater contains the equivalent of two liters (64 ounces) and 800 calories. Those “cups” are not passed up and down the aisle for everyone to share; they are consumed by one person. Pediatricians tell me they see plenty of obese kids who drink up to 2000 calories a day from soft drinks alone. Would front-of-package calorie labeling encourage kids to drink less soda? It might for some, and seems worth a try.

  • Jill Reid
  • October 4, 2009
  • 6:24 am

It is confusing because it reads like you are saying 20z = 800 calories.

Marion Nestle
  • Marion
  • October 4, 2009
  • 7:09 am

@Jill: Aha. I see what the problem is. Thanks for pointing it out. It is now fixed, hopefully.

  • Helen
  • October 4, 2009
  • 7:03 pm

I remember when a 6 ounce glass bottle of pop was a huge, rare treat, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (the 1950s).I have known plenty of folks who go through a 2 litre bottle of Coke or Pepsi in a day, sometimes even two bottles. My college-age boys would point out the calorie count to their friends, one of whom lost 30 pounds just by going off pop entirely. The siren call of a boost of caffeine and corn sweetener (plus sugar, in Canada) is overwhelming when one has long hours and not enough sleep; and while my children are savvy about the calories, they (or their spouses) are always “going off pop” once again, or deciding to drink diet pop only. Or reminding themselves that artificial sweeteners act on the brain, and going back to drinking water.

And really, the artificially sweetened pop is not much of an improvement health-wise. I still vividly remember the two-page magazine ads proving sugar was natural and healthy, because the “sugar” group of kids in the study had results similar to the “aspartame” group in the study. If they had compared “sugar” to “no sugar”, the comparison would have been more accurate.

[...] the truth – Coca-Cola intends to start displaying calories on the front of their packaging, but still distorts the number of servings per container to make calories counts look [...]

  • Quora
  • August 18, 2012
  • 3:03 pm

How many calories are there in a 12 oz can of Coca-Cola?…

?? Isn’t it compulsory for that kind of information – along with information on carbohydrate, fat, protein, salt, food additive and fiber content – to be printed on the can itself, obviating the need to look it up or asking for it? In the European Uni…

[...] 2 servings.  Serving size is what confuses.  If it’s 100 calories per serving, those calories have to be multiplied by the number of servings per [...]

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