by Marion Nestle
May 10 2013

Coca-Cola pledges to fight obesity — again

Coca-Cola’s announced its new “global commitments to help fight obesity” in a full-page ad in the New York Times.

The company says it is committed to several actions in the more than 200 countries in which it sells products:

  • Offer low- or no- calorie beverage options in every market;
  • Provide transparent nutrition information, featuring calories on the front of all of our packages;
  • Help get people moving by supporting physical activity programs in every country where we do business;
  • Market responsibly, including no advertising to children under 12 anywhere in the world

The company’s press kit contains:

As might be expected, the announcement has gotten a lot of press, most of it highly laudatory (see below).

How are we to interpret all this?  It sounds good if you don’t think about it too carefully.  Coke has made these kinds of promises before with not much to show for it.  And the company is still focusing on personal choice and physical activity.

It can’t advise people to drink less soda.  Business is already bad enough.  Sales of Coke are flat in the United States, or declining.  The company needs to sell more, not least to pay the salary of its President, Muhtar Kent, who earned $26 million last year.

This looks to me like a major public relations campaign to keep vending machines in schools and head off federal, state, or local soft drink taxes or soda caps.

The only way Coke can really help address obesity and poor diets is to sell less soda—the one thing its stockholders will not allow.  And the company is doing everything it can to fight city and state soda taxes, portion size caps, or anything else that might reduce sales.

It will be interesting to watch this one play out.  Stay tuned.

Here are some of the press accounts:

MSN Money: Is Coca-Cola’s anti-obesity campaign the real thing?
Bloomberg: Coca-Cola to Show Calories While Ceasing Ads for Under 12s
Washington Post: Coca-Cola promises to make diet drinks more widely available around the world
Businessweek: Coca-Cola to Show Calories While Ceasing Ads for Under 12s (1)
Wall Street Journal: Coca-Cola to Stop Marketing to Kids
National Post: Coca-Cola Announces Global Commitments to Help Fight Obesity – National Post
Economic Times: Coca-Cola goes global with anti-obesity push; to make lower-calorie drinks
 Financial Times: Coke tries to fend off obesity criticism