Friday, May 6, 2011

We Have a Drinking Problem

You love it, or you don’t. You drink it, or you don’t. The “it” is Coca-Cola and on May 8 it will be 125 years old. The company has evolved from one product—Coca-Cola, to more than 400 brands in 2006. It sells more than 1.3 billion drinks a day in more than 200 countries around the world.

That’s a lot of coke . . . and a lot of calories.

Soda (in all fairness, not just Coke) is the single largest contributor of calories in the U.S. diet. A 12-oz can of sweetened soda contains about 150 calories and almost 10 teaspoons of sugar. Drink just one can a day and you’ll pile on an extra 15 pounds in a single year (the average American drinks about 2 cans of soda a day). Liquid calories now account for a whopping 21 percent of our daily calorie intake—more than 400 calories every day.

Sugar sweetened drinks (including fruit drinks) have been linked to a number of contributing factors to chronic illness, including metabolic syndrome and higher blood pressure. Ten percent of overweight adults consume 450 calories of sugar sweetened beverages a day (cutting those 450 calories per day could lead to a weight loss of close to 50 pounds in one year.)

But, back to Coca-Cola. Way back when, 125 years ago, we didn’t have an obesity epidemic. Today, 34 percent of our population over the age of 20 is obese, and another 34 percent is overweight but not obese. One in three American children and teens is overweight or obese (a threefold increase over the past 30 years). And, believe it or not, this is Coca-Cola’s target market.

In the current issue of Advertising Age, Coke’s chief marketing officer notes that “teen recruitment” will be especially important to grow the business. CEO Muhtar Kent says, “we are laser-focused on targeting the right consumers, and creating new strategies that are winning over a massive new generation of teens to drive growth of Trademark Coca-Cola.”

Given our efforts to curb childhood obesity and the obesity epidemic in general, do you see a disconnect here? How exactly should we celebrate this 125th anniversary?

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