Coke Casts Obesity Blame on Exercise, Not Soda

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Since Coca-Cola has been criticized for its contribution to the obesity problem in the United States with its seemingly endless supply of sugary drinks, the company launched a campaign aimed at redirecting the underlying cause for obesity. The campaign itself has generated its own criticism among news outlets for its misleading health facts.

When originally launched, Coca-Cola’s campaign promoted the idea that the health crisis is caused by a lack of exercise, not diet—and is certainly not due to the intake of too many sugary drinks. The company aimed to sell Americans on the idea of “energy balance,” which results in lots of backlash as misleading and potentially incorrect.

In August,, The New York Times published an article about the company’s “science-based” solution to the obesity crisis, which is “to maintain a healthy weight, get more exercise and worry less about cutting calories.”

Coca-Cola teamed up with Global Energy Balance Network, which encourages the idea that Americans are too fixated on what they eat and are unconcerned about how active they are. In the article, the New York Times stated that health officials say this message is misleading and simply part of an effort by Coca-Cola to misdirect the criticism about the role sugary drinks play in the spread of obesity and other major health issues.

As reported by PR Daily, Coca-Cola is now combating the criticism with more transparency. Officials came out to discuss that the company spent nearly $119 million on health-related research and partnerships since 2010.

In the article, Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North American, said “We understand that our efforts on obesity are not always seen as credible, what we’re doing today is just a first step.”

To offset criticism about their role in the obesity problem, what should Coca-Cola have done? Did they take their campaign in the right direction or should they have done something entirely different?

If you were on the PR team at Coca-Cola, what goals and objectives would you use in your response?

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7 Responses to Coke Casts Obesity Blame on Exercise, Not Soda

  1. Kate Sitter says:

    Sometimes, simplicity and candor is the best option. One of the reasons why PR gets pegged for “spinning” stories is because of funded research like this. It was shrewd of the New York Times to investigate who funded the research that allowed Coca Cola to say that exercise, not sugary drink intake, was the key component to a healthy lifestyle. The old adage “follow the money” allowed the New York Times to uncover this study as somewhat misleading.

    If I were on the PR team of Coca Cola during this backlash, I would release a statement. In it, I would mimic what alcoholic companies say after every commercial, “drink responsibly.” It is not Coca Cola’s responsibility to prevent obesity. The company makes soft drinks. By nature of the product, it is not and simply will never be a celery stick. But what consumers must realize is, this is okay. Coca Cola produces a line of products that are to be enjoyed in moderation, like anything. If Coca Cola put out a statement that urged consumers to drink responsibly, and reminded consumers that only they are capable of building their own diets for a healthy lifestyle, I think Coca Cola could remove the great burden of obesity prevention they’ve placed upon themselves.

  2. Teresa Joseph says:

    Coca-Cola never should have said that calories don’t matter and that people just need to exercise more. I think this was a huge mistake. In my opinion, transparency with large corporations is one of the biggest issues we face today and Coca-Cola made the mistake of thinking they could push information to their consumers. This tactic may have worked ten years ago or so, but now consumers can do their own research and they know for a fact that calories do impact weight gain.

    I think Coca-Cola should do something similar to Altria Group, who is the world’s largest tobacco corporation. The company specifically states that tobacco isn’t good for you, but to make up for this they focus their time on environmental management, sustainable growth, and developing lower-risk products.

  3. Johana Soto says:

    I think Coca-Cola did the wrong thing by trying to put the blame of obesity on the amount of exercise instead of just trying to find a solution. I feel like they should have had a different direction so the audience doesn’t feel like they are misleading.
    If I were on the PR team, I would have probably tried to offer work out routines, maybe even diets that allow you to drink Coca-Cola products every so often that wouldn’t lead you to being obese or getting sick.

  4. Connor Johnson says:

    I would have taken many of the same steps that Coca-Cola did. The goal would be to distance Coca-Cola from the topic of obesity, especially in the minds of those that believe Coca-Cola is partly responsible for the obesity epidemic. However, this would prove to be difficult since many studies have proven that diet is much more important than exercise when it comes to obesity. I really liked that you included multiple links that backed up what you said. It makes your article much easier to follow and relate to.

  5. Juliet Moo says:

    One thing Coca-cola did that seemed to have made the situation worse is by redirecting the focus to exercise. Although the initial intention might be good, by doing so, Coca-cola is putting the blame on all its consumers who are obese for not exercising. Bringing the consumers’ self-esteem might not be the best way to build a strong reputation. I believe there are better ways to address the issue. For instance, instead of telling the public to do more exercise, Coca-cola could’ve taken a more subtle approach by hosting health related campaigns. Nonetheless, being more transparent is always a good way of getting public approval, that’s only if it is done right. If I were on Coca-cola’s PR team, my goal would be to disassociate the brand with obesity-related diseases.

  6. Jordan Baxter says:

    I like that fact that Coca-Cola is teaming up with other brands to pursue in the direction that they’d like to but the campaign itself is absolutely a risk approach. If I was conducting PR for Coca-Cola I would make one of our goals to keep pushing in the directions that were already taken. Keep causing the public to think about whether obesity is from soda or lifestyle choices in general. Another response would be to make supplemental drinks that support the fight against obesity to show that the brand itself is creating solutions as well as telling the public that there is more to obesity than just soda.

  7. Siera Whitten says:

    Wow. This was certainly not the approach I would have taken– simply not the truth about how one should become healthy. Health is a combination of a positive mindset, a healthy diet, and a balance of different exercises at least 3-6 times a week, depending on the person. In fact, the only way to see results is putting just as much work in the kitchen as you are in the gym, if not more. This article from describes the important balance of diet and exercise:

    Anyway, Coca Cola could not really have thought that their approach would be accepted by all. I feel like people are doing more to practice healthy habits, and soda- while it may not be on it’s way out- is definitely having to scoot over for healthy, sugar free/real sugar drinks. Coca Cola should not have touched on their sugar content/what healthy means. Instead, they should have focused on how “classic/timeless” the drink is. It is obvious that Coca Cola is nowhere near healthy, and Coca Cola should not try to pretend to be something that it isn’t. I think becoming transparent was a good move by the PR team. Moving forward I would continue to be transparent, and if they are trying to promote healthy habits for their consumers, then continue to be active in that campaign through engagement on social media channels/activities and contests/sponsorship of healthy events/create products that actually are healthy.

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