Don't Buy Coke's Anti-Obesity Ads

Coca-cola and sugary sodas aren't good for you, but that doesn't mean people shouldn't be allowed to drink them.

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Atlanta-based Coca-Cola is taking to the airwaves for the first time to address a growing cloud over the industry: obesity.
Atlanta-based Coca-Cola is taking to the airwaves for the first time to address a growing cloud over the industry: obesity.

I want to praise Coca-Cola for airing an ad urging consumers to make responsible food and drink choices, and taking on an obesity problem that is no longer about personal vanity, but about public health. But the hypocrisy of it is just too overwhelming.

The ads depict healthy-looking, slender, and athletic people, many carrying Coke bottles, and peddle the high-sugar product as something that can be consumed responsibly and in moderation (the company also points out that it produces low- or no-calorie drinks). In a sense, the ads are similar to those run by liquor companies—drink us, but don't go overboard. That's certainly a better message than the one inherent in Coke's marketing, in which the beverage is sold in big-gulp sizes suitable for the average consumer, as long as he or she is sharing the drink with the Washington Redskins. But it misses the point: If you want to make more responsible food choices, don't drink sugared sodas at all.

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High-sugar drinks are not like any other food, not like any other calories. There's been a great deal of research in recent years on the particularly damaging effect of sugared sodas on the body—particularly on insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity. The body also appears not to "count" calories from beverages in the same way it does from solid food, meaning people are more likely to over-indulge on soda. It's irresponsible to suggest Coke is part of a healthy diet.

That doesn't mean people shouldn't drink it, or that government should ban it. People have the right to poison their own bodies, unless the trade and traffic of such substance (as in illegal drugs) or the impact on one's judgment and driving ability (as in alcohol) merits government control on behalf of the public at large. Food is about more than mere sustenance; it's one of the great sensual pleasures of life. A sugary soda might fit into that definition (though personally, I'd pick chocolate mousse). If you want to drink it, drink it—but don't convince yourself it's benign. And if Coke wants to sell it, they should do so. But don't go with the disingenuous ad campaign claiming Coke is good for you as long as you go for a jog later in the day. Sell it for what it is—something delicious and pleasurable, but not good for you. They can't have it both ways.

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