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Coke's obesity ad campaign criticized

'All calories count' ad message called incomplete

Posted: Feb 3, 2013 11:23 AM ET

Last Updated: Feb 1, 2013 8:46 PM ET

Coca-Cola's new advertising campaign positions itself as part of the solution to North America's obesity epidemic, but nutrition experts caution it's a distraction from the food and beverage industry's contributions to the problem.

The ads, which are available online and run in the U.S., won't be seen on Canadian airwaves until April.

One clip points to the drink as only one of many sources of the overabundance of calories that drive obesity, saying "All calories count no matter where they come from."

The company said it wants to play a leading role in finding solutions for obesity, such as by reducing the calories per serving of its products, putting the calorie counts prominently on the front of cans, and creating a smaller portion can.

"It's about telling people, 'Hey, we have products that are great, they can be good in a balanced lifestyle, but remember they contain calories and you have to balance them with activity,'" Nicola Kettlitz, president of Coca-Cola Canada, said in an interview.

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, the director of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa, called sugar-sweetened beverages the number 1 single contributor of calories to North American diets.

"I think what Coca-Cola is trying to do, is to be able to say to the world: 'Look, we're part of the solution, we're not part of the problem, and we don't need things like soda taxes, and cup size limits because we are already working on it.' So this is their way to try to avoid further legislation that would affect their sales."

Coke maintains it's offering many zero-calorie options and that pop consumption has decreased. What's omitted, Freedhoff said, is that sales of their other sugar-sweetened products, such as sports and energy drinks, are climbing steadily.

Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California at San Francisco, argues sugar and the food and beverage industry have caused the obesity epidemic.

Lustig said the new ads, part of the $3 billion a year the company spends on advertising, are an attempt to distract from their role in creating a generation of overweight, unhealthy people.

The pop maker sees a calorie as a calorie, regardless of whether it comes from carrots or cheesecake.

"They're all the same as far as Coke is concerned," Lustig said. "Problem is, science doesn't support that."

Coke's calories come from sugar — 10 teaspoons or 42 grams — in a single can of regular soda that has no other nutrients.

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With files from CBC's Kelly Crowe and Marijka Hurko

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