Here is an interesting perspective from the CEO of Coca Cola, explaining how their reputation continues to be harmed and blamed for making Americans big fatsos when they are doing the right things by reducing sugar content in their products. In fact, lack of exercise and other products are contributing to making people fat.
This was published in the Wall Street Journal on October, 7, 2009.
Coke Didn’t Make America Fat
Americans need more exercise, not another tax.
By MUHTAR KENT
Obesity is a complex issue, and addressing it is important for all Americans. We at the Coca-Cola company are committed to working with government and health organizations to implement effective solutions to address this problem.
But a number of public-health advocates have already come up with what they think is the solution: heavy taxes on some routine foods and beverages that they have decided are high in calories. The taxes, the advocates acknowledge, are intended to limit consumption of targeted foods and help you to accept the diet that they have determined is best.
In cities and states across America—and even at the federal level—this idea is getting increased attention despite its regressive nature and inherent illogic.
While it is true that since the 1970s Americans have increased their average caloric intake by 12%, they also have become more sedentary. According to the National Center for Health Statistics 2008 Chartbook, 39% of adults in the U.S. are not engaging in leisure physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that 60% of Americans are not regularly active and 25% of Americans are not active at all. The average American spends the equivalent of 60 days a year in front of a television, according to a 2008 A.C. Nielsen study. This same research data show that the average time spent playing video games in the U.S. went up by 25% during the last four years.
If we’re genuinely interested in curbing obesity, we need to take a hard look in the mirror and acknowledge that it’s not just about calories in. It’s also about calories out.
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.
Those pushing for this tax lack some essential facts, not to mention some basic common sense. Over the past 20 years, the average caloric content of soft drinks has dropped by nearly 25%. This is due in large part to a determined focus by our company and others on the diet/light category with brands like Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero and Powerade Zero. Even soft drinks with sugar, like Coca-Cola, contain no more calories (140 calories in a can) than some common snacks, breakfast foods and most desserts served up daily in millions of American homes. And while obesity rates have skyrocketed, sales of regular soft drinks decreased by nearly 10% from 2000 to 2008, according to the industry publication Beverage Digest.
So where are all of the extra calories in the American diet coming from? Research from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that added sugars, as a percentage of total daily available calories, have declined 11% since 1970. Yet the percent of calories from added fats and flour/cereal products has increased 35% and 13%, respectively, during that same time period.
Will a soft drink tax change behavior? Two states currently have a tax on sodas—West Virginia and Arkansas—and they are among the states with the highest rates of obesity in the nation.
Obesity is a serious problem. We know that. And we agree that Americans need to be more active and take greater responsibility for their diets. But are soft drinks the cause? I would submit to you that they are no more so than some other products—and a lot less than many, many others.
As a leader in our industry, we have a role to play in solving this issue. Globally, we have led the industry for nearly 30 years with innovations across the diet and light beverage categories. Today, more than 25% of our global beverage portfolio is comprised of low- or no-calorie beverages.
Policy makers should stop spending their valuable time demonizing an industry that directly employs more than 220,000 people in the U.S., and through supporting industries, an additional three million. Instead, business and government should come together to help encourage greater physical activity and sensible eating and drinking, while allowing Americans to enjoy the simple pleasure of a Coca-Cola.
Mr. Kent is CEO of the Coca-Cola Company.