Coke falls flat in terms of health

Coca-Cola’s Healthwashing

by Sonia Mountford, Grass Food Researcher

Although Coke is selling more in emerging markets, South African volumes grew 7%; sales of Coke in the United States are declining since those more informed consumers are turning to healthier options. Sales of diet sodas are falling at a faster rate than regular sodas, according to the US Beverage Digest. Last year sales volume in the US for Coke fell 1 percent, while Diet Coke fell 3 percent. The company needs to sell more, not least to pay the salary of its President, Muhtar Kent, who earned over $29 million in 2011 according to Forbes.

Trying to turn around soda’s fat image, Coca-Cola used its 127th anniversary to promise to fight obesity by not advertising to children under 12 anywhere in the world (a commitment it already made in the U.S.) and offering low or no calorie beverage options in every market where it does business. The company also vowed to provide transparent nutrition information with calorie counts on all packages and support physical activity programs in all 200 countries where Coca-Cola is sold.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest didn’t think much of Coca-Cola’s obesity pledges, putting out a steady stream of tweets calling the announcement “coke speak.” “Coca-Cola is desperately trying to disassociate itself with obesity. Too bad the core product causes it,” CSPI tweeted. The food group linked to its own version of the Coca-Cola Coming Together video.

Coca-Cola is systematically recruiting sympathetic nutrition researchers to cast doubt on science linking soda consumption to health problems. Rhona Applebaum, chief science and health officer at Coca-Cola, said the company plans to increase the free webinars the site provides for registered dietitians and other health care professionals who want to earn continuing education credits to maintain their professional licenses.

“Even if (aspartame is) 100 percent safe to use, it’s still problematic from a nutrition standpoint,” said Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian based in Las Vegas who is critical of the food industry’s marketing practices. Bellatti is pushing to have the professional group for dietitians cut its ties with the industry.

“If you’re Coca-Cola, you have a vested interest in defending your product line,” Bellatti said.

Corporate Responsibility Focus

Since sugary beverages are implicated in the global obesity crisis,  major soda manufacturers have recently employed elaborate, expensive, multinational corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns which have been argued to echo the tobacco industry’s use of CSR as a means to focus responsibility on consumers rather than on the corporation. Unlike tobacco CSR campaigns, soda company CSR campaigns explicitly aim to increase sales, including among young people. Moreover, these CSR campaigns provide a mechanism for soda companies to circumvent pledges not to market in schools as pledged in the United States. While soda companies agreed to remove full-calorie drinks from U.S. schools, CSR programs like the Refresh Project keep the brand in front of young people with promises of grants for children’s schools, parks, or other programs. Often school tuckshops in South Africa continue to sell Coca-Cola products because of the sponsorship of refrigeration.


As noted Coca-Cola company spend billions of dollars on marketing strategies in order to stay key players in the beverage industry. Sponsorship is claimed to be the world’s fastest growing form of marketing, moreover, sponsorship activities are applied with the belief that companies can enter international markets and appeal to local consumer preferences. 

Coca-Cola promises a commitment to healthy, active living via their Live For a Difference Campaign, “Active, Healthy Living”

“Our goal: To raise the standards of physical fitness globally; through sponsorships, grass roots programs and education around the importance of active living for health.”

If Coke were truly committed to this statement then the only way Coke can really help address obesity and poor diets is to sell less of their products. Instead they are diverting consumer attention from the health risks their products pose towards associating their products with a healthy lifestyle through sponsorship of sporting and health events in South Africa.

Its no surprise, that when something goes against complete logic and common sense that if you follow the trail, you will find big money at the end. Surely South African sports governing bodies should be questioning the motives of Discovery Health, Independent News & Media (Cape Times & Cape Argus), Old Mutual, and Pick n Pay; the organisers associated with Coca-Cola sponsored events. How can they justify promoting unhealthy foods and drinks?

Our society is sorely misunderstanding what constitutes a healthy diet, which is no surprise when our sporting events are sponsored by the likes of Coca-Cola.

Do we want our children to believe that Coca-Cola brands are synonymous with health and fitness? Do we want our children to believe in the dietary and fitness advice from Coca-Cola? I am guessing you answered no, then please comment below or send us an email at

From Coca Cola Website

From Coca Cola Website

From Coca Cola Website

From Coca Cola Website

From Coca Cola Website

From Coca Cola Website

See also: Diet Soda Concerns, Aspartame, How Healthy are the New Soft Drinks?

Further Reading Coke Machine by Michael Blanding Leading health groups call on Coca-Cola to scrap ad campaign Further Watching Obesity Policy Coalition Australia criticises Coca Cola advertising least healthy products to children. (Watch here Jane Martin from the Obesity Policy Coalition says Coca-Cola should scrap its latest advertising campaign and make changes to its product portfolio to help tackle the growing problem of obesity.



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2 comments on “Coke falls flat in terms of health
  1. […] Health washing So instead of making food healthier, Big Food has responded in other ways, for example, emphasising active lifestyles. Coca Cola is one of the most active here. […]


  2. […] Coke falls flat in terms of health […]


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