Shammin’ and Scammin’ with Big Soda

Coca Cola ads from the '50s

Coca-Cola and other comparable companies regularly inject their names into the news by sponsoring research projects, conferences, healthy-lifestyle initiatives, and similar rah-rah-get-healthy programs.

All these efforts are designed to give the impression that the answer to childhood obesity lies somewhere outside their sphere of influence. They pose as disinterested parties with only the public good in mind, a goal which is best served by convincing us that obesity is all our own fault, and none of their doing. They trust that the people will be hoodwinked by elaborate public relations campaigns. To some weary eyes, it all boils down to a batch of transparent hogwash, a sham and a scam.

First, let’s consider Coca-Cola’s point of view, which is typical of all the giant corporations. Coke’s feelings are hurt because some health advocates have “unfairly blamed the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages” as the cause of the childhood obesity epidemic. Not only that, but those health advocates are doing actual harm, because while they are busy blaming sugar-sweetened beverages, their tunnel vision “could undermine finding a true solution.”

In its own eyes, Coke is a shining beacon of beneficence. It talks about noble aspirations like “honoring the rights of parents and caregivers,” which simply means, “Don’t let some bossy, uptight, spoilsport government agency brainwash you into depriving your kids of soda.”

It talks about being part of a “workable solution” but in its mind, the chief component of any solution, to meet its definition of “workable,” includes the continuing and untrammeled growth of the beverage market. That is the ground-level condition, the non-negotiable bottom line as far as they are concerned.

The corporation makes half a dozen major claims for itself:

We use evidence-based science
We innovate
We provide hydration choices and educate consumers about them
We inform with transparency
We market responsibly
We promote active, healthy living

“Active” is a very big word in Coke’s public relations lexicon. What they really mean is that every consumer has an obligation to perform enough exercise to work off all the calories gained from drinking soda, so their products won’t be blamed for obesity.

From mentions in previous posts, Childhood Obesity News readers will remember Jeff Nedelman, the lobbyist and public relations expert who has worked not only for the American Beverage Association, but also for the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Snack Food Association. When it comes to influencing the opinion of both the American people and our legislators, Nedelman is The Man. This quotation, which represents the distillation of his wisdom, is worth keeping in mind: “No one commissions research anticipating a negative response.”

Next time, we look at some of Big Soda’s alleged contributions to the public good, how its mindset plays out in the real world, and how some health professionals feel about it.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Active Healthy Living,”, undated
Source: “The venomous rhetoric is worse than the science,”, 04/10/13
Images by e r j k p e r j k p r u n c z y k

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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