In a Wall Street Journal opinion article, Muhtar Kent, CEO of the Coca-Cola Company argued that soft drinks are not to blame for the U.S. obesity epidemic and that consumers need exercise to improve health, and that adding another tax on recession weary consumers is not the answer.
Kent is responding to the heavy taxes being placed/proposed on some routine foods and beverages that are high in calories. The taxes are intended to limit consumption of these foods.
He points out that while the caloric increase of Americans has grown by 12% since the 1970s, Americans also have become more sedentary. According to the National Center for Health Statistics 2008 Chartbook, 39% of adults in the U.S. are not engaging in leisure physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that 60% of Americans are not regularly active and 25% of Americans are not active at all. The average American spends the equivalent of 60 days a year watching TV, according to a 2008 A.C. Nielsen study. This same research data show that the average time spent playing video games in the U.S. went up by 25% during the last four years.
“If we’re genuinely interested in curbing obesity, we need to take a hard look in the mirror and acknowledge that it’s not just about calories in. It’s also about calories out,” Kent noted.
“Our industry has become an easy target in this debate. Sugar-sweetened beverages have been singled out in spite of the fact that soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and sweetened bottled water combined contribute 5.5% of the calories in the average American diet, according to the National Cancer Institute. It’s difficult to understand why the beverages we and others provide are being targeted as the primary cause of weight gain when 94.5% of caloric intake comes from other foods and beverages,” he added.
Kent noted that over the past 20 years, the average caloric content of soft drinks has dropped by nearly 25% as companies have expanded the diet/light category with brands like Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero and Powerade Zero.
“Even soft drinks with sugar, like Coca-Cola, contain no more calories (140 calories in a can) than some common snacks, breakfast foods and most desserts served up daily in millions of American homes,” he said.
He also noted that while obesity rates have skyrocketed, sales of regular soft drinks have decreased by nearly 10% from 2000 to 2008, according to the industry publication Beverage Digest. Research from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that added sugars, as a percentage of total daily available calories, have declined 11% since 1970. Yet the percent of calories from added fats and flour/cereal products has increased 35% and 13%, respectively, during that same time period. Given the statistics Kent argued that a soft drink tax isn’t going to help obesity.
“Obesity is a serious problem. We know that. And we agree that Americans need to be more active and take greater responsibility for their diets. But are soft drinks the cause? I would submit to you that they are no more so than some other products-and a lot less than many, many others,” he said.
Currently, just two states, West Virginia and Arkansas, have taxes on sodas, and they are among the states with the highest rates of obesity in the nation, Kent pointed out.
“Policy makers should stop spending their valuable time demonizing an industry that directly employs more than 220,000 people in the U.S., and through supporting industries, an additional three million. Instead, business and government should come together to help encourage greater physical activity and sensible eating and drinking, while allowing Americans to enjoy the simple pleasure of a Coca-Cola,” Kent concluded.