By Dr. Charlotte Markey and Jessica Schulz

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According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,1 the rate of obesity has substantially increased for both children and adolescents in the past thirty years. In 1980, 7% of children between the ages of six and eleven were obese. In 2012, 18% of children in this same age range were obese. Similarly, in 1980, 5% of adolescents between the ages of twelve and nineteen were obese, whereas today 21% of adolescents in the same age range are now obese. Because of this increase in obesity rates, some have suggested that today’s youth may be less likely to live as long as their parents.2 However, adopting a healthy lifestyle – including healthy nutritional habits and regular physical activity – has the potential to attenuate the rising rates of obesity.  Unfortunately, the current food and physical activity environment makes it difficult to make smart choices most of the time.  Perhaps, most tempting are some of the food options that are not actually food at all, such as soda.

Soda consumption has been linked to a variety of negative health outcomes, including obesity.3 In fact, soda has been blamed for playing a huge role in the rise of obesity rates among youth. Creative marketing and the omnipresence of soda both contribute to the problem.  Although soda companies have attempted to offer “healthier” options, such as low- or zero-calorie drinks, there has never been a collective effort to reduce the amount of soda Americans drink.  

However, recently, at the Clinton Global Initiative, soda companies—Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group—pledged to reduce the number of sugary drink calories that Americans consume by 20% by 2025. In many ways, this could be viewed as the soda’s industry “first official acknowledgement” of their role in the United State’s obesity epidemic.  The companies suggest they’ll meet this challenge by expanding the “number of low- and no-calorie drinks, as well as drinks sold in smaller portions, and use their promotional skills to educate consumers and encourage them to reduce the calories they are drinking.”4

Their most recent promotional venture is through the Mixify Soda Campaign. Commercials advertising the Mixify Soda Campaign began to appear this fall. They depict young adults and children participating in an active lifestyle and making smart food and beverage choices. The campaign’s slogan is “Balance what you eat, drink, and do.”  They suggest, for example, that if you don’t exercise one day, maybe you should forego the soda and fries that day. Ultimately, the campaign seems bent on spreading the responsibility around – it’s up to us all to make the right nutritional choices. But how successful will this be?  Some research suggests that media campaigns about sugary drinks may be effective in raising awareness about the negative health issues that are related to drinking such beverages.5 Time will tell whether this new campaign proves to be successful; the soda companies have reported that they have an independent research firm tracking their progress.

But, is this enough? How much responsibility should soda companies shoulder when it comes to obesity rates? Some experts have suggested that there has already been a decrease in the consumption of sugary drinks in the U.S., among youth, and that this just might be some well-thought out ploy to piggyback on an already declining trend. Of course, it is possible that the Mixify campaign will really make a difference. 

So, I guess we can commend soda companies for finally taking a stand and acknowledging that their products have an effect on our health. However, it’s going to take a lot more than a fancy campaign and a promise to help Americans be healthier.  Soda companies may be trying to make a difference with this campaign, but we need them to do more.  We need them to understand that consumers want the freedom to choose and the best way to help them make good choices is to make more healthy options available.  A larger, systemic change in the beverages sold to consumers is what is ultimately needed.

 

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Copyright Charlotte N. Markey, 2014.

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1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Childhood obesity facts. Retrieved from

http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm

2Olshanksy, S.J., Passaro, D.J., Hershow, R.C., Layden, J., Carnes, B.A., Brody, J., Hayflick, L.,

Butler, R.N., Allison, D.B., & Ludwig, D.S. (2005). A potential decline in life

expectancy in the United States in the 21st century. The New England Journal of

Medicine, 352, 1138-1145. doi: 10.1056/NEJMsr043743

3Bray, G.A., Nielsen, S.J., & Popkin, B.M. (2004). Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in

beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. The American Journal of Clinical

Nutrition, 79(4), 537-543.