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Tonight, Coca-Cola will reveal a new two-minute ad during cable news shows addressing soda’s role in the obesity epidemic. Their pitch: excess calories from all sources -- not just from soft drinks -- are responsible for our ever-widening waistlines. They go on to say how low-calorie drinks, like Diet Coke and Coke Zero, can help us stay skinny.
A second ad debuting this week plays up Coke’s manufactured reputation as a beverage that brings people together and makes us happy. The commercial will show a montage of gleeful activities that, together, burn off the “140 happy calories” in a can of Coke: laughing with friends, walking your dog and doing a victory dance after bowling a strike.
Though it may sound like damage control, the company claims their ads aren’t railing against public health campaigns that link soft drink consumption to diabetes, obesity and heart disease. They’re merely trying to educate the public on how the Coca-Cola Company is helping to support the battle of the bulge by displaying calorie information on their products and by offering a wider choice of low-calorie soft drinks.
I’ve got to hand it to them: Coke has a brilliant marketing campaign. Who doesn’t love the idea of happy calories? It taps right into those arguments we have with ourselves when we’re trying to rationalize doing something we know is bad for us. “I deserve this.” “It’s a treat.” “I can be good tomorrow.” It’s what makes the ads so effective -- and so evil.
However, these ads don’t quite get to the truth about soda. There are problems with their claims that diet soda can help battle obesity, and that all of their syrupy concoctions contribute to a happier life. A new study this month found that sweetened and diet drinks are linked to a greater risk of depression. People who drank more than four cups (32 ounces) of soda per day were 30 percent more likely to develop depression than those who drank no soda. And the risk appeared to be greater for people who drank diet rather than regular soda.
Other research points out that diet soft drinks may, in fact, make it harder, not easier, to control one’s weight. People who habitually consume artificial sweeteners gain more weight, put on more body fat, and regularly consume more calories. Depression, by the way, is also linked to more belly fat.
While Coca-Cola is right that all excess calories contribute to weight gain, most Americans aren’t getting enough exercise to burn off the calories they consume -- with or without soda. When you do sweat it out by walking for that half-hour a day that the government recommends, you burn roughly 150 calories. After all of that work, do you really want to simply break even because you burned off a can of Coke?
Here’s a better idea: Give up soda and go for a walk. By saving yourself 300 extra calories a day, you could lose nearly a pound per week. And something tells us that shopping for jeans in a smaller size will make you do a much happier dance than drinking a can of Coke would.