Coke Tells People to Get Active; Gets Criticized for Not Telling Them to Avoid Coke

Coca-Cola is catching flack for something that any other group who promotes ways to boost physical activity would be praised for. According to the New York Times Well Blog, “Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, is backing a new ‘science-based’ solution to the obesity crisis: To maintain a healthy weight, get more exercise and worry less about cutting calories.”

Coke has contributed millions to start and fund an organization to promote active lifestyles. It’s also funding scientists who perform research on the benefits physical activity on chronic disease and health status.

Basically, Coke is telling people if they want to stay fit and not have to worry about calories, then get active. That strategy won’t work for everyone. But it is a strategy that many people I know adhere to; it works fine for them. What is perplexing is that public health advocates (who hate Coke) are up in arms when Coke promotes an agenda that advocates would ordinarily agree with.

Comments (3)

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  1. Barry Carol says:

    With all due respect, I think Coke’s argument is disingenuous. There is a negative secular trend away from sugary beverages which is hurting Coke’s business as well as Pepsi’s. Sure exercise is helpful in sustaining a healthy lifestyle. However, most people don’t realize how much you have to exercise to burn off a few hundred calories. It’s much easier to just not consume as many calories in the first place.

    For example, a 12 ounce can of regular Coke is about 140 calories. A similar quantity of water has zero calories. To burn off the 140 calories from the can of Coke, one would have to walk about three miles which would take most people the better part of an hour. Riding a stationary bike at 20 miles an hour or so would burn 400-450 calories in 40 minutes. A modest size piece of pastry that most people could eat in 30-60 seconds has 400-500 calories.

    Keeping calorie consumption with reasonable limits makes a lot more sense if weight control is your goal than sweating like crazy through a lot of time consuming exercise. The increase in average portion sizes as compared to 30-40 years ago and the proliferation of fast food restaurants has contributed hugely to the increasing U.S. obesity rate. It’s not due to genetics or even a lack of exercise. It’s due to a secular increase in calorie consumption in America.

    Finally, I’ve read that healthy food like fruits and vegetables cost as much as 12 times more per calorie than junk food. It’s no wonder that poor people consume a lot of junk food even if they have decent access to healthy food but lack the means to pay for it.

    • Devon Herrick says:

      I don’t disagree with your assessment. But I doubt if there is anything Coke could do to please public health advocates. Coke has diversified into other product lines that includes water, tea and fruit beverages.

      Society in general has changed its relationship with food. People swing by the fast food restaurant to avoid the hassle of cooking. When people do cook, they take shortcuts and use labor-saving products from the grocery store.

      During your next trek to the grocery store, look at how much food is processed, already-prepared, frozen entrées or mixes.

      When families cook from scratch, they are often mindful of calorie-dense additives like butter or sugar. But food manufacturers are competing on taste, so they have an incentive to use oil and sugar to make their foods taste better. The same is true of fast food and restaurant meals.

  2. Barry Carol says:

    Thanks for the response Devon. I agree about all the processed and prepared food Americans are eating these days. I also think it is wise of Coca Cola to diversify beyond soda but, unfortunately for them, soda remains, by far, their most important business and the core of their business.

    When a relative was an inpatient at an academic medical center a couple of years ago, I was struck by a poster I saw on one of their bulletin boards that showed average portion sizes for various types of food now vs. 1980. Portion sizes are much larger today. Moreover, when I go to a restaurant in Europe, I note that the portions are much smaller than in the U.S. and considerably more expensive as well. I’m not sure why that is but I suspect it’s related to a desire by those who operate America’s restaurants to maximize the perceived value proposition that they can offer to the customer which, in many cases, means more food for the money than they can get somewhere else.

    While I have no idea how the number of restaurants and restaurant workers per 1,000 of population compare between Western European countries and the U.S., it’s important to note that the U.S. obesity rate is twice the European rate and 6 times the Asian rate. It’s also twice what the U.S. rate was in 1980. I think the growth of portion sizes is a huge part of the problem as opposed to inadequate exercise. Americans should try to eat less both at home and when they go out.