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Why we need to avoid peddling Coke

Todd Harper, CEO of Cancer Council Victoria writes:

Almost 15,000 people recently took part in the annual Around the Bay ride in Melbourne.

It was my eighth time participating in the event and I am always amazed by the large numbers of people of all ages and background who participate. Bike-riding and a healthy free-wheeling childhood in Australia are intrinsically linked – which is perhaps why it is so jarring that this most innocent, and healthy, of pastimes is currently the target of corporate giant Coca-Cola.

The fact that Coca-Cola is seeking to address its sugar-soaked image problem by linking to popular activities is no surprise, but its sponsorship deal with Bicycle Network undoubtedly will not be its last effort to try and link itself to a health promoting organisation. This is all part of Coca-Cola’s public foray into obesity prevention after it announced it was getting into the ‘solution’ business earlier this year. In particular, we’ll see Coca-Cola investing in sporting initiatives to keep the focus on being physically active rather than having a healthy diet.

Overseas we’ve seen Coca-Cola move a fair way along this journey already. In the United States the corporation can be found supporting various programs including Living Positively that raises awareness of heart disease among women .  The company is also the founding sponsor of the group Exercise is Medicine whose aim is to promote physical activity to prevent chronic disease.  The group is now operating in Australia , propped up by Coca Cola here as well.  Recently the Pan American Health Organization (a regional arm of the World Health Organization), was the recipient of funds from Coca-Cola and the 2013 International Congress of Nutrition had the soft drink manufacturer as a platinum sponsor. These endeavours seek to promote the view that exercise is the key to prevention of diseases associated with overweight and obesity, taking the focus off the role of diet and in particular, sugary drinks.

Bicycle Network is not alone in being targeted by the corporation’s weight-washing drive. In Australia, we’ve already seen Coca-Cola sponsoring Little Athletics and the Victorian state sporting centres. But in the current economic climate, there will be other sporting organisations in Australia that may be vulnerable to approaches by large unhealthy food and beverage companies. However in the interests of good health, it’s vital that other organisations don’t follow suit and become cheerleaders for the sugar sweetened beverages industry when 47% of children (aged 2 to 16) consume sugar sweetened beverages daily and Australians are purchasing 1.28 billion litres of sugary drinks each year.

It’s important to remember that sugary drinks are one of the key contributors to excess sugar in children’s diets and they are associated with increased energy intake and in turn, weight gain and obesity. The recently reviewed Dietary Guidelines found that sugary drinks contribute to overweight and obesity in both children and adults. It is well established that obesity is a leading risk factor for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers, including breast and colon.

Next on Coca-Cola’s radar will be public health groups. The first salvo has already been fired with the soft drink manufacturer writing a letter to Australian GPs outlining its ‘part of the obesity solution’ initiatives, and encouraging doctors to work with the organisation in the future. The brashness of the offer highlights how confident the company is in moving into this space. The only way we can avoid a future where Coca-Cola is  being peddled to young people via reputable organisations is to highlight the negative impact of these relationships and encourage  community organisations to remain true to their mission and keep their brand out of the clutches of organisations such as Coca-Cola.

Disclosure: Todd Harper is a Bicycle Network member and featured in a video on their website promoting Around the Bay. The video has been removed at his request.

Comments 12

  1. Hinge Head says:

    Coke sponsoring cycling makes sense to me – I find it great for getting grease off the chain links.

  2. Persia says:

    Bicycle Victoria started to develop a wobble a long time ago. It’s in desperate need of trueing now.

  3. Roger Clifton says:

    Seeing as we burn alcohol instead of the other carbs we are nibbling means that we should count adults’ alcohol in the same way as children’s sugar. But unlike the sugar in the kiddies’ drinks, it doesn’t spoil our appetite for more food. There’s 18 g of carbs in a stubbie of beer. No wonder we’re fat.

  4. mikeb says:

    In our family including 3 kids we solved the epidemic of junk food addiction by (trumpet fanfare) RARELY BUYING ANY JUNK FOOD. It’s not that hard people. We somehow managed to get through many years of Little Athletics (sponsored by Maccas) without finding the need to buy fast food 5 times a week. The only time cordial was in the fridge was for birthdays or special event. Every once in a while we’d buy fast food but never was it a regular occurrence. Some people just need to look at themselves a bit more critically & not play the victim.

  5. Malcolm Street says:

    Cycling just needs the right kind of coke – Bolivian cycling powder anyone?

  6. Adam Gibbs says:

    Well I can sort of understand Coke promoting their sugar-free and “diet” products as a healthier alternative to their usual full-strength stuff – though there’s still questions over the long-term health effects of it. I’ve seen all sorts of claims about the potential harms of artificial sweeteners but not much peer-reviewed…

  7. zut alors says:

    The diet version of this ‘beverage’ is excellent for cleaning metal.

  8. condel says:

    Coke Amatil own Jim Beam (Australia). Why don’t they offer cans or bottles of Jim Beam and Coke instead of that lame ‘cola’?

  9. Ron Batagol says:

    You’ve got it “spot on” Mikeb! In the end parents need to be in control ( and lead by example by the way!), so that kids can can the odd treat on special occasions ( be it Coke, Maccas or whatever) but otherwise routinely follow a healthy diet.
    I,like many others, have seen this work well through generations of kids and grandkids! Bottom line- lead by example and stop being a victim and expecting the “nanny state” ( yes I hate that word too but it’s appropriate in this context), to take on your parental responsibilities!

  10. Alex says:

    Todd Harper is clearly an indivdual of considered principle. We need more of his kind!

  11. Ian Mack says:

    The association of Coke with healthy is contemptible.
    Coke are in the business of creating obesity.
    Coke’s concern about obesity is a reaction to the growing social awareness that they are in the business of creating obesity.
    If you were to use their product exactly as they want you increase the risk of obesity.
    There is a thin veil of respectability but really dealing coke?
    Think about it.
    And they fight against sensible container deposit laws. Contemptible!

    Blame the parents is similarly flawed. Ron this isn’t a call to legislate but for a bicycle health promoting organisation to be ethical and not look at a tiny facet of health but the broader picture. Coke = obesity.
    Really we are going to say no Little Johnny, don’t do the same as all your friends because Coke is bad?
    Having fought with them to get them off the computer and on a bike, we are then going to say but don’t go Around the Bay or on the Great Victorian Bike ride?
    That is where the organisation is meant to show ethical leadership and decline the bribe, I am sorry inducement from the corporate giant.
    And bluntly it tarnishes the healthy repute of the organisers.

    I have visited the CEO of Bicycle Network Victoria and expressed my concern and how it was reflective of a significant proportion of cyclists.
    I will leave the defence of their position to Bicycle Network Victoria (BNV) the CEO did listen to me yet we didn’t have a meeting of minds on this issue.
    From that conversation because BNV won’t make ethical judgements about its members personal life (their sexuality, religion, lifestyle etc) which is commendable, they can’t see any ethical issue.

    An ethically disabled organisation I you will.
    Their test is simple is this legal?
    Anything goes if it is legal.

    I strongly contend that there is a huge pool of potential members who are turned off by BNV’s ethically vacuum.

  12. Lisa Innes says:

    Todd Harper’s comments are very timely given that this Friday in Melbourne there is a conference on childhood obesity prevention,sponsored by the prevention arm of our state government, alongside EPODE European Network who are supported by multinationals Ferroro, Mars, Nestle and Schweppes Group (this is clearly stated on their website). Given, I would assume, that the business model of these companies is all about increasing sugar consumption, I find this concerning.

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Primary Health Networks
private health insurance
quality and safety of health care
rural and remote health
screening
sexual health
social media and healthcare
suicide
surgery
swine flu
telehealth
tests
TGA
trauma
women's health
youth health
Indigenous health
#CTG10
#NTRC
Acknowledgement
cultural safety
Indigenous education
Lowitja Institute
NT Intervention
social and emotional wellbeing
Uluru Statement
WA community closures
News about Croakey
PIJ Commissions 2021
Public health and population health
#PreventiveHealthStrategy
#UnmetNeedsinPublicHealth
air pollution
alcohol
consumer health matters
COVIDwrap
environmental health
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
food and nutrition
gambling
Government 2.0
gun control
health communications
health impact assessment
Health in All Policies
health inequalities
health literacy
human rights
illicit drugs
injuries
legal issues
marriage equality
Media Doctor Australia
media-related issues
nanny state
National Preventive Health Agency
obesity
occupational health
physical activity
plain packaging
prevention
public health
public interest journalism
road safety
sport
sugar tax
tobacco control
transport
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violence
Web 2.0
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Royal Commission
Social determinants of health
discrimination
education
justice
Justice Reinvestment
NBN
Newstart
poverty
racism
social policy
Summer reading 2020-2021
Tasmanian election 2021
Testing Croakey News category 1
The Croakey Archives
#cripcroakey
#HealthEquity16
#HealthMatters
#IHMayDay (all years)
#IHMayDay 2014
#IHMayDay15
#IHMayday16
#IHMayDay17
#IHMayDay18
#LoveRural 2014
Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC