For the first time in its history, the Coca-Cola Company released an ad that tackles the issue of obesity, a growing concern for many Latino families. The two-minute ad, called “Coming Together,” highlights Coca-Cola products like Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero as well as other initiatives the company has implemented to help customers make healthier choices.
But medical experts point to a possible link between sugary drinks and obesity in Hispanic communities, and caution soda drinkers to examine the promotion carefully.
“I’d like to see the big beverage companies market less sugar not sugarcoat their marketing,” says Dr. David Ludwig, professor of pediatrics at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. Research published by Dr. Ludwig’s team last fall indicated that where adolescents on average lost four pounds if they cut out soft drinks for a year, Hispanics lost fourteen pounds. “Consuming sugary drinks increases the risk of obesity more than any other food that we know of, based on recent research, and, unfortunately, the Hispanic community may be especially at risk,” he said.
With Hispanic buying power reaching over $1 billion, companies like Coca-Cola consider Latinos an “imperative for growth,” according to Nielsen Media Research. The company employs a Vice President for Latin Affairs and, in 2011, a former marketing executive for Coca-Cola apologized on ABC News for helping the company market specifically to Hispanics, teenagers and African-Americans.
Coca-Cola maintains that its operations and the ad show their contribution to a broader effort to keep communities fit, including the Hispanic community.
“This is about the health and happiness of everyone who buy our products,” writes Diana Garza Ciarlante, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola. She says the company plans to continue engaging the Hispanic community and will run the ads on Spanish language media over the course of the year. “These innovative ads reinforce that we take seriously our commitment to help fight obesity.”
Coca-Cola’s ad comes amid increased pressure on the beverage industry. New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg waged a high-profile battle against sugary drinks last summer, outlawing drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, movie theaters and convenience stores, and other cities seem to be following suit, including Cambridge, Massachusetts. First Lady Michelle Obama, who launched the anti-childhood-obesity campaign Let’s Move!, partnered with Disney to ban unhealthy food and drink ads from its children’s channels. Coca-Cola itself has given more than $13 million to support fitness and nutrition education programs around the country.
Medical experts say these initiatives are the steps that lead to more active and fit communities, especially populations like the Hispanic community that have an increased vulnerability to obesity and diabetes.
“The best way to show commitment to the health of the Hispanic community is stop marketing sugary drinks to them,” says Dr. David Ludwig.