Sweet Self-Deception

Add self-deception to the powerful effects of sugary drinks in the news this week. People who defend these drinks and people who attack them seem equally susceptible.

On one end of the spectrum, we find a nearly obsessive focus on sugary drinks as the villain of our obesity epidemic, despite new CDC data showing that most of the sugar in the American diet comes from solid foods. On the other end, we have people at Coke convincing themselves that a campaign to get people moving so they can burn off all those calories will persuade health advocates that Coke is part of the solution to obesity.

The CDC report provides a detailed accounting for the consumption of added sugars by Americans between 2005 and 2010. Two-thirds of the calories from added sugar come from foods, rather than beverages. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) ignores these facts when they say, “Soda and other sugar drinks are the single biggest source of calories in the American diet.” That claim is part of their campaign against “Liquid Candy.” Self-deception is hard at work here, and it doesn’t help their case.

At the other extreme, Coke went global this week with their PR campaign to prove they’re good corporate citizens in the fight against obesity. No doubt, corporate responsibility is a good thing. But the centerpiece of their campaign is a commitment to physical activity. A beverage company taking responsibility for physical activity doesn’t earn much credit. After all, Coke’s business has more to do with nutrition.

One of Coke’s other key messages is that they won’t advertise to kids. But to Coke, adolescents aren’t kids, so they are fair game for a sophisticated new digital marketing campaign. Believing that this double-speak demonstrates corporate responsibility is grand self-deception.

Clearly we have a problem with obesity and excessive sugar consumption is part of the picture. But self-deception gets in the way. Coke has earned skepticism from public health advocates and their PR blitz will do little to earn trust.

The talented people of Coca Cola have much better ideas to offer, and they should do so.

Likewise, public health advocates face a skeptical public when they deceive themselves with half-truths to advance their cause. It’s little wonder that initiatives like the cap on sugary drink portions keep running into brick walls.

Click here to read more about the CDC report, click here to read the report itself, and click here to read about the CSPI Liquid Candy campaign. Click herehere, and here to read about Coke’s strategies.

A Little Sugar in My Bowl, image © Umberto Salvagnin / Wikimedia

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