by Marion Nestle
May 31 2013

Annals of public relations: the food industry vs. obesity

Yesterday was a blitz day for food industry public relations.

PR #1.  Coca-Cola placed a full-page ad in the New York Times: “Beating obesity will take all of us.”

Coke’s promises [with my comments]:

  • Offer low- or no-calorie drinks in every market [but focus advertising on the sugary ones].
  • Provide transparent nutrition information, listing calories on the front of all packages [but per serving, not total for the big ones]
  • Help get people moving [divert attention from the caloric effects of sodas]
  • Market responsibly, including no advertising to children under 12 anywhere in the world [I will believe it when I see it]

“Obesity won’t be solved overnight,” Coke says, but we know that when people come together around shared solutions, good things happen.” 

Like drinking less Coke? 

PR #2.  The food industry’s Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation issued a press release to say that its member companies have more than met their stated goal of reducing 1.5 trillion calories in the marketplace in the United States.   Indra Nooyi, HWCF Chair, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, said:

Our industry has an important role to play in helping people lead healthy lives and our actions are having a positive impact…We see continued opportunities to give consumers the choices they’re looking for and to work collaboratively with the public and non-profit sectors on initiatives that enable continued progress.

Really?  Where are the data?  On what basis does the group make this claim?  The press release says that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is doing a study but the results won’t be released until the fall.

Hence: Public relations.  As I noted in a previous post on this promise in 2010.

What are we to make of all this?  Is this a great step forward or a crass food industry publicity stunt?*  History suggests the latter possibility.  Food companies have gotten great press from announcing changes to their products without doing anything, and every promise helps stave off regulation.

Oops.  Forgot.  

Addition:  I forgot to post the accompanying report from the Hudson Institute about how low-calorie beverages are driving all the sales growth for soda companies, at least in the US.

  • Ned Hamson

    Missed the worst/best spin of the day the McDiet by McDonalds CEO! Yuck! Good job on your post

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  • Kathy

    Thank you so much, Marion, for sifting through all of the blah-blah-blah for those like me whose eyes glaze over at sentences like “We see continued opportunities to give consumers the choices they’re looking for and to work collaboratively with the public and non-profit sectors on initiatives that enable continued progress.” I will continue to drink my beverage of choice, tap water, to the near exclusion of all others.

  • Marion, I will believe it when I see the actually numbers and findings and not a minute before.

    This seems too much like placating to me. While I believe that parents are ultimately responsible for what their children consume there does need to be more regulations on what is advertised to children.

    It is not just soda (although that is a big culprit) it is all of the sugary and calorie filled drinks that are marketed towards children. Some of these drinks are even marketed as a “healthier” alternative.

    Children need to be drinking a lot more water, and a lot less sugar.

  • Food industry vs obesity? That’s a good subject for debate. How about- Alcohol industry vs vehicular accidents? More people are dying everyday because of too much alcohol intake. I don’t hear any loud criticisms against alcohol industry? Why?

  • Cutting sugary beverages out of your diet is the single best step to slashing ‘lifestyle disease’. These PR people get paid a LOT of money to continue to bamboozle the public. Thank you Marion, for taking big soda to the mat!

  • sarah

    If Coke is trying to beat obesity by listing clear nutrition information on the front of the package such as calories so consumers can make informed choices, why not help the consumers be even more informed by providing a brief description of each of their ingredients, because we all know it’s not all about calories….what about sugars?

  • Thanks for this info! These companies are not going to sacrifice their success to honestly help fight obesity such as ummm stop producing harmful addictive products sad but true – making people aware and spreading information like your doing is great 🙂

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