Coca-Cola has announced plans to help tackle obesity by displaying the calorie counts of its fizzy drinks more visibly and promoting regular exercise.
The measures, which will cover more than 200 countries, are part of the world’s most valuable brand’s strategy to improve its reputation among consumers amid concerns that its sugar-laden carbonated drinks are helping to fuel the global obesity epidemic.
The Atlanta-based company is also ending advertising aimed at children under 12 around the world, a measure it implemented in the UK in 2009, and pledged to offer low or zero-calorie drinks in every country it operates in.
“We want to be part of the solution,” Coca-Cola chairman and chief executive Muhtar Kent said in an interview on the US TV network CBS on Wednesday.
He did not specify how the company might promote healthier life-styles, but said: “We all know that taking in calories is more fun than spending calories and we want to make spending calories also a little bit of fun. We believe that this will begin to make a difference [and] create awareness around the importance of active, healthy lifestyles.”
The move, which coincides with the 127th anniversary of the company, comes after Coca-Cola broadcast its first ad that mentioned obesity earlier this year, believed to be the first in the history of food and beverage advertising to address the issue directly. Ads were broadcast during the US Superbowl and during Coronation Street, a British prime-time soap opera.
Recent research suggested that sugary drinks cause people to put on weight irrespective of other behavior. A decades-long study involving more than 33,000 Americans suggested that drinking sugary beverages interacts with genes that affect weight and enhances a person’s risk of obesity beyond heredity.
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum in the UK, welcomed Coca-Cola’s plans, particularly on calorie labeling, which he said was often unclear.
Fry said the company had made significant improvements in the calorie content of its product line in recent years, for example, using a natural zero-calorie sweetener derived from the stevia plant instead of sugar.
“It’s Coke becoming more and more responsible because consumers are becoming more and more vociferous about health concerns,” he said.
“It’s part of their philosophy that they’re becoming more understanding of the problem of obesity and recognizing that a lot of people put it down to carbonated drinks. They were awful because they used to have only one high-sugar product, but over the last 20-30 years they’ve been moving in the right direction and now have a number of low and zero-calorie drinks, like Diet Coke and Coke Zero,” he said.
Fry said it was difficult to demand that the company should end production of standard red Coke — a 16-ounce (473ml) bottle of which contains 210 calories — when it remained the backbone of its global business.
However, he said the company was partially responding to consumer trends in the UK that suggested lower calorie alternatives were the growing market.
“At the Olympic Games, they [Coca-Cola] did market research on the drinks people bought, which was taken on board by the company. Diet Coke, Coke Zero and water accounted for 73 percent of their sales, with red Coke only making up 23 percent,” Fry said.