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 strategy of the world’s most valuable brand’ 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 has pledged to offer low- or zero-calorie drinks in every country it operates in.
“We want to be part of the solution,” Coca-Cola’s chairman and chief executive, Muhtar Kent, said in an interview on 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.”
In a statement setting out the company’s plans, Kent described obesity as “a global societal problem” and “today’s most challenging health issue, affecting nearly every family and community across the globe”.
The move, which coincides with the 127th anniversary of the company, comes after Coca-Cola broadcast its first advert to mention obesity, earlier this year – which was believed the first in the history of food and beverage advertising to address the issue directly.
Adverts were broadcast during the US Superbowl and during Coronation Street.
Recent research suggested that sugary drinks caused people to put on weight irrespective of other behaviour.
A decades-long study involving more than 33,000 Americans suggested that drinking sugary beverages interacted with genes that affected weight and enhanced a person’s risk of obesity beyond factors of heredity.
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, welcomed Coca-Cola’s plans, particularly on calorie labelling, which he said was often unclear and confusing to consumers.
Fry said the company had made significant improvements in the calorie content of its product line in recent years, by, for example, using a natural zero-calorie sweetener derived from the stevia plant instead of sugar.
He said: “It’s Coke becoming more and more responsible because consumers are becoming more and more vociferous about health concerns.
“It’s part of their philosophy that they’re becoming more understanding of the problem of obesity and recognising that a lot of people put it down to carbonated drinks.
“[The drinks] were awful because they used to have only one high-sugar product but over the last 20 to 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.”
Fry said it was difficult to demand the company ended production of standard red Coke – a 16-ounce bottle of which contains 210 calories – when it remained the backbone of its global business.
But 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 [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% of their sales, with red Coke only making up 23%.”
Coca-Cola sells all types of non-alcoholic drinks, from fizzy pop and sports beverages to tea, coffee, juice and energy drinks. About a quarter (800) of its products are described as low- or no-calorie drinks.
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