Is Coke on crack? Sarah wades in…

By Jordanna Levin |

Did you all catch this clip on the weekend with Jeremy Paxman grilling James Quincey, president of Coca Cola Europe, on his program Newsnight?

No matter. Here it is:

The fantastical bit is where Paxman points out

A cinema-sized container of Coke contains 44 teaspoons of sugar.

The fantabulous bit is watching Mr Coke try to argue around it and being forced to accept Coke plays a role in the obesity epidemic.

That said, it’s encouragingly indicative of where we’re heading. Fancy a Coke executive agreeing to be grilled on national TV (and international YouTube) about sugar…and acknowledging our intake needs to be reduced…only 12 months ago?! We’re moving forward, we really are!

But you might not have noticed the ploys Mr Coke uses to wriggle around things. I did.

  1. He uses crazy maths. When asked to state how much sugar is in a can of coke he says six teaspoons. What Casio calculator is he using?? A can is 375ml. According to the Coke UK website, there’s 39.8g sugar in 375ml. Which, using my fingers, comes to almost 10 teaspoons of sugar. Do we think the kids at home picked it up?
  2. He talks calories. His research obviously found taking us away from something as tangible as teaspoons and gabbing on about calories worked. When the chat got tricky, he’d tell us a can of Coke had the same number of calories as a cappuccino. What’s that got to do with it when we’re talking sugar? A coffee certainly doesn’t contain 10 teaspoons of sugar.
  3. He says solving obesity is about information. Crap. It’s about addiction, hyper-availability of calories and normalisation of junk. Oh, and that little issue of sugar completely stuffing up the metabolic processes that control our hunger mechanism. Besides, he ain’t no hero for displaying the nutritional information on his packaging. It’s the law. And such information is readily available. It’s called Google. Oh, and another besides: those big cinema cups don’t display the sugar content. Which is Paxman’s point.
  4. He does the “everything in moderation” cop out. As I say constantly, I totally agree with moderation… except with sugar. We are designed to be addicted to it, crave it, binge on it and get fat on it. In short, moderation is metabolically very difficult (impossible, some say) when it comes to sugar. To claim otherwise is to akin to blaming an asbestos victim for breathing in.

I have to say I do feel for the soft drink industry. They are in a corner. And can’t wriggle their way around things.

Of course, they do have the fake sugar (and stevia) routes left to them. And the juice route and the bottle water route (Coke and Pepsi own most of both the juice and water markets now). Perhaps more alarmingly they also have the diversionary tactic route, too. I’ve been speculating for a while that the soft drink industry will start telling us to just exercise and burn off the crap they’re feeding us (akin to telling an asbestos victim to do deep breathing exercises). As though obesity is simply a matter of just burning off calories. (For more on why the “calories in, calories out” argument is false, click here). What do you know, that’s exactly what they’re doing. The Coke website is full of little tips like this one: “Did you know? To burn off the calories in a can of Coca-Cola, you could try 14 minutes of salsa-dancing or 11 minutes of squash.” Indeed!

The next frontier? Sponsoring health summits and owning the sugar debate. We posted recently here about how they’ve tried to get me on board their messaging. Indeed, as this post goes live, the I Quit Sugar team is watching a webinar, Sweet Symposium: A Spotlight on Fructose and Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Trends, sponsored by… you guessed it… Coca-Cola Pacific.

Solving obesity is about information… this kind of information. We need to observe it, be alive to it and to not be fooled by it.

What do you think? Are you surprised or bothered by these tactics? Have you noticed any others? And is Coke’s direction necessarily a bad thing? 

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