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Big Soda Is at It Again. When Will We Take a Stronger Stand?
October 24, 2018

Big Soda Is at It Again. When Will We Take a Stronger Stand?

A reader of my blog sent me a screenshot of paid content from the American Beverage Association that appeared on a major news network’s website. When I say “paid content,” I’m referring to advertising that’s dressed up to look like the kinds of articles that visitors actually go to the website to read.

There were four headlines.

  • Worried about calories & sugar in your family’s diet?
  • Why are Coke, Dr. Pepper and Pepsi working together?
  • We’re helping moms cut sugar in their families’ diets.
  • What drives innovation at America’s beverages companies?

But these weren’t four different articles. Clicking any of these headlines would take you to the same page, shown here. On that page, you’ll find information about the efforts of the American Beverage Association to reduce calories and sugar in their member companies’ offerings.

They call it “the largest voluntary effort to fight obesity by any industry.” If they could reduce the amount of calories in their beverages, “that would be a profound public health achievement.”

I was also made aware of Diet Coke’s recent “because you can” TV ad campaign. They have well-known, 20-something actors saying to drink Diet Coke “because you can.” Some of the lines in those ads include, “life is short” and “it’s not the kind of cherry you bring home to mom.”

Both the paid content and the ad campaign make one thing abundantly clear. Big soda is resigned to the fact that people are very much aware that their products are unhealthy.

The paid content, targeted at a slightly older audience, deals with this dilemma by trying to make you believe A) they care, and B) they’re trying to create healthy products. As if a drink with 20 percent less of a bad thing magically makes it healthy.

The TV ad campaign, which seems to target teens and young adults, deals with this dilemma by basically telling people to do whatever the heck they want. You know it’s not healthy, but drink Diet Coke anyway. Because you can. Show people how tough and cool you are.

Both approaches are shameful. But did you really expect anything different?

I lump big soda in with tobacco, alcohol and processed food. These products are legal for adults. But they’re detrimental to your health. It’s no secret.

The costs in terms of human life and healthcare costs are devastating, and these products have led to a chronic illness epidemic that threatens to destroy our healthcare system.

You have a cause and effect. Scientifically proven and widely understood.

As a healthcare practitioner and a father, I find it absolutely intolerable that these things are marketed to children. But as a society, I feel like we’ve willfully lost this battle to the big corporations that make and sell these products.

I wish that, as parents, we could at least universally agree that none of these products should be marketed to or used by children. And if you use them as adults, you’re knowingly making a choice that contributes to the chronic illness epidemic.

Big soda is showing us that they’ll do anything to make money, even at the expense of our health and the health of our kids. The question is, will we continue to allow it to happen?

Remember, good health requires good choices. Choose better. That would be a profound public health achievement.

Deborah Smith