Why Coca-Cola Shouldn’t lead Obesity Prevention

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Allowing the Coca-Cola beverage company to fund our nation’s obesity prevention efforts would be like letting Camel cigarettes teach us about lung health. Unfortunately, this is pretty much what’s happening right now. The newly appointed chief of the Center for Disease Control, CDC, is accepting checks of a million dollars and up from Coca-Cola for obesity related government programs.

Obesity prevention

Sugary beverages, like Coca-Cola, are known contributors to the current obesity epidemic. Researchers have also found that these drinks are connected with Type II Diabetes, declining kidney function, BPA exposure, dehydration, increased cancer risk, lower bone mineral density, metabolic changes (the bad kind ), and benzene exposure. All of this is to say that the products produced by Coca-Cola are directly opposed to the CDC’s mission, which is to promote our health and protect us from disease.

Advocacy groups for obesity prevention have been pushing for more restrictions on the soft drink industry because of their harmful effects on health and body weight. These groups have met some success. Over the past 3 years, cities in the US have been implementing extra taxes on sugar sweetened beverages to hopefully reduce consumption. Philadelphia, Berkeley, San Francisco, Oakland, Albany CA, Boulder, Cook County IL, and Seattle have all taxed soft drinks. For some regions, it is too soon to tell if the taxes are working. However, we’ve seen a 20% decrease in soft drink consumption in Berkeley, CA! Some regions have also implemented bans on soft drinks in schools, restricted advertising, nutrition labeling, and restrictions on using government benefits to purchase soft drinks. Despite these minor successes, the soft drink company is still winning the battle.

Soft drinks, like Coke and Pepsi, are the number one source of unnecessary calories in the American diet. Unlike with candy and desserts, we can consume 800 extra calories a day in sweetened beverages without realizing it! This CDC website breaks down typical sugary drink consumption in the US. Nearly 2/3 of all Americans are drinking a sugar-sweetened beverage, like Coke, every single day. Imagine if we all swapped out all those sodas for water; how many unnecessary calories could we avoid?

Kimber Stanhope, a nutritional biologist, argues that we should consider soda America’s public enemy number one. Her research shows evidence for a relationship between soda and the obesity epidemic. Currently, the CDC website still posts information urging us all to kick our soda habits. However, with the newly appointed chief, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, this information may start disappearing.

The leading soft drink companies have been lobbying for public influence for decades now. Since we became aware of the dangers of excess sugar, the industry has been pushing to keep this information quiet. Just like the tobacco industry in the 1960’s, they are afraid of losing customers due to health concerns. Which, by the way, is a valid concern because we’ve been seeing drops in soft drink consumption since the turn of the millennia (coincidentally, obesity rates stopped rising so much at the same time). Thanks to the efforts of scientists and public health advocates, most of us now know that too much sugar is bad.

Once awareness about the risks of added sugar started to spread, soft drink industries needed a way to smooth over their image. It’s bad for business if everyone knows that your product is the reason they’re fat. Similiarly to how the tobacco companies wanted to exculpate themselves from the scientific claims that cigarettes cause lung cancer, the soft drink companies want to avoid blame for the obesity epidemic. So, the strategy they came up with is: America Needs More Exercise! 

Obesity can be understood as an energy imbalance. It happens when we consume too much energy, and expend too little through exercise. When Coca-Cola pushes the message that obesity happens because we don’t exercise enough, we’re only hearing half of the story. They want the emphasis of obesity prevention to be on exercise, rather than diet. This approach better serves their interests in maintaining sales.

Only 2 cans of coke per day add 280 empty calories to our diet. To exercise away this unnecessary energy, I would have to jog for 45 minutes. That doesn’t seem so bad, but this exercise would serve only to maintain my current weight. If I were overweight or obese and trying to reduce, I’d have to jog much longer than that every day. For most of us, hours of exercise every day is difficult to achieve. This is why we need to think about both sides of the energy balance. Most nutritionists agree that the first, and easiest, step in any weight loss project is cutting out those sugary drinks.

In light of the recent appointment of Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, who says she’ll “consider” accepting future funding from Coca-Cola, we should expect changes in our nations obesity prevention efforts. We are likely to hear less about what we shouldn’t be eating, and more about exercise. Don’t forget that the energy balance has two sides, and diet is just as important as physical activity.

If you or a loved one is struggling with food addiction or cannot find a way to lose weight, please contact us at intervention.com. We have experts ready to help you break free from what is holding you back.