Coke’s CEO: We Didn’t Make America Fat. Indeed?

An Op-ed by Coca Cola’s CEO, Muhtar Kent, in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, paints a picture perfect portrait of corporate citizenship, and little if any connection to the obesity epidemic in the US:

Our industry has become an easy target in this debate. Sugar-sweetened beverages have been singled out in spite of the fact that soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and sweetened bottled water combined contribute 5.5% of the calories in the average American diet, according to the National Cancer Institute. It’s difficult to understand why the beverages we and others provide are being targeted as the primary cause of weight gain when 94.5% of caloric intake comes from other foods and beverages. more…

Mr. Kent continues to claim that the problem of America is not too many calories in, it’s not enough calories out (exercise). What a convenient solution for junk food and liquid candy manufacturers – lay the blame on lazy consumers.

What you need to know:

The average daily caloric intake of Americans today is 3800 calories. If 5.5% of people’s calories come from soft drinks, that works out to 200 calories a day. That’s 200 empty calories: water+sugar+artificial flavorings and colors. This amounts to an added pound in body weight every 17 days, or 21 extra pounds put on every year. Still believe Coca Cola has nothing to do with Obesity?

As for lack of exercise, the World Health Organization recently published a report showing that, contrary to popular belief, people are working out pretty much the same as they did in the 1970′s. So it is about “calories in” after all.

Mr. Kent presents Coke as a socially responsible company, but fails to mention the huge marketing budgets aimed at youngsters, promoting more and more consumption of soft drinks. And by placing vending machines in schools, colleges, libraries, and pretty much every corner people turn, Coca Cola and other beverage manufacturers are literally putting soft drinks in people’s hands.

The stats presented by Mr Kent fail to mention the progressive growth of single serve Coke bottles over the last century, from a reasonable 8 fl oz. to the 20 fl oz. bottles today. Not to mention larger serving sizes at fast food establishments.

While the beverage industry is not the only reason Americans are getting fat, it is certainly a major contributor.

No doubt this Op-ed was written in response to growing pressures to levy a tax on soft drinks. Here we agree with Coke’s CEO. We’ve written before that a sales tax is not the way to go. A better solution is to set up “calorie offsets”, similar to carbon offsets. Learn more here.

What to do at the supermarket:

Folks, a soft drink may be a nice treat here and there, but for daily consumption, stick to water. Tap water. A family of four can save $500 a year by skipping the drink aisles in the supermarket.

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  • Dr. Susan Rubin

    In addition to obesity, osteoporosis and tooth decay, the Coca cola company has wrecked havoc worldwide on other levels. Belching Out the Devil by Mark Thomas is a interesting book that shows what else Coca cola has been up to.

  • Dr. Ayala

    Great post!

    The caloric contribution of added sugar from soft drinks in the average American’s diet is much greater than what Muhtar Kent cites.
    A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that the number of adults consuming sugar-sweetened beverages has increased dramatically in the past two decades. Two-thirds of adults now consume sugar-sweetened beverages, with an average daily intake from sugary drinks of almost 300 calories, or 15% of the 2,000 calories/day recommended for the typical diet.

    Here’s the link to the abstract:

    Here’s another study in Obesity painting an even grimmer picture:

    We wish the average American consumed 5.5% of their calories from sugary drinks. Studies show that they take in 2-3 times that!

  • staff

    Thanks Susan, for pointing out the additional “benefits”.

    Thanks Ayala, for the more accurate facts and links.

  • Daria

    I still believe it is no coincidence that the introduction of high fructose corn syrup into our food chain also corresponds to the increase of obesity rates in the US. Sure Coke is not the only source of HFCS but they are a contributor.
    They would all claim there is no evidence, the only real test would be to ban HFCS and go back to natural sugar. I wonder if we would see some dramatic results over the next decade? Especially if our rate of exercise hasn’t changed.

  • David

    If course no one is “forced” to drink any soft drink or high frutose snack. Managing diet and food choice is each individuals responsibility.

  • savvy

    Look at the map which looks at amount of soft drinks consumed by state – is it a coincidence that this is highest in the states with the highest obesity rates – MS and AL and low in Colorado which has the lowest obesity rate in the US