The weight of the world is a growing predicament. According to the Centers for Disease Control, over one-third of adults in the United States are obese. In the United Kingdom, reports indicate that the same is true for 44 percent of women and 39 percent of men. This worldwide crisis has grown exponentially since the 1960s.
So who or what is to blame for this epidemic? Most experts point to diet and exercise. Nutrition habits have changed over time, and so have the levels of participation in physical activities. People have become more sedentary and fast food rules dietary routines. Sugary beverage consumption also seems to be a major culprit. Sugary beverage intake has increased from four percent of daily calorie intake to 9 percent since 1970 in the United States. That’s a lot of sugar and a lot of calories.
And yet, large companies such as Coca-Cola cannot get enough of the profits generated by this level of beverage consumption. So much so that Coca-Cola has a yearly marketing spend of close to $11 billion in marketing, which generates close to $30 billion in sales.
Profits aside, there is a huge problem in the US and elsewhere, and many folks recognize that sugar contributes to this problem. In fact, health concerns have had an impact on Coca-Cola’s sales, which have weakened in recent years. So how is Coke responding to these declines? They are attempting to sway the scientific assessment of what is causing the obesity epidemic.
Funding a Conflict
Coke is now participating in a campaign to fund scientific research that aims to make lack of activity the primary reason for the obesity problem. Although funding research does not necessarily mean there is a conflict of interest, consumers may want to judge this information with a more critical eye. Many think that Coke is attempting to muddy the waters in order to influence consumer behavior in their favor. The primary message through this research is to ramp up activity levels so that you don’t have to be concerned about what you eat.
That approach just seems counterintuitive: some sort of drink-a-diet-coke-and-it-cancels-out-a-double-cheeseburger mentality. But Coke has taken this message and approach so far that the behemoth has provided monetary support to start a group called Global Energy Balance Network. The primary focus of this group is to implement solutions that address inactivity, poor diet, and obesity. I wonder what they’ll recommend about sugary beverage consumption.
Sugar a Major Health Problem
The bottom line is that sugar is addictive. So much so that some regulators are calling for it to be regulated in the same way we regulate tobacco. Sometime soon, it might not even be unusual to see local rehab centers offering sugar detox programs alongside their other standard offerings. But even if it weren’t addictive, sugar wouldn’t be that good for your overall health anyway. Sugar consumption increases your risk for illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, and a number of other health conditions. In addition, close to 25,000 deaths each year in the United States are attributed to sugary beverage drinking. So why continue to push the bounds of science in a direction that seems unethical? I’ll let you be the judge.
What you put in, you get out. If you put tons of sugar and junk food in your body, you will likely experience weight gain. Scientific research is not needed to support this basic understanding of input and output. Yet, Coke wants to change our understanding of these basic facts, which is tantamount to changing the meaning of gravity.
Perhaps more importantly, it’s starting to feel like history is repeating itself. Remember when the tobacco companies claimed that nicotine was not addictive? Big tobacco funded research about nicotine’s addictive properties as well. In the end, a judgement was leveled against big tobacco and the industry was forced to overhaul advertising and other standards that influenced product sales. Heavy taxes for tobacco that fund health initiatives was one way to deal with this crisis. Perhaps a beverage tax will pass the next time it is recommended.
Coke needs to recognize that its products and practices have contributed to the oversizing of the world and have increased the risk for developing certain diseases. America’s favorite beverage maker has changed not only the history of the country with its red Santa and iconic logo, but has changed the health of the country and the world. Caffeine, along with sugar, is an addictive combination. Moving forward, Coke may want to consider looking at ways to foster balanced consumption levels that maintain the health of their customers.
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