So You Wanna Be Part of the Solution?
By: Joel Epstein
Dear Coke, Pepsi, Sunkist and Dr. Pepper/Snapple:
It's time we had a talk about your becoming a part of the solution, rather than a cause, of childhood obesity and diabetes. And to show you what kind of people we are, we're buying. But first we're asking that you take a few steps to show us and America's children that you are worth it.
You see, the fact is, we're very concerned. With children and adults consuming more sugar than ever before, half of it in the form of soda and other sugary drinks, it is no wonder there is a growing obesity and diabetes epidemic in this country. The average American today is drinking 45 gallons of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages a year. That is 39 pounds of empty calories in the form of sugar annually.
But I don't need to tell you this. After all, you make, market and distribute the stuff. So you know better than anyone how your products are contributing to what could be the first generation of children in modern history to have a shorter life expectancy than its parents.
You must be very proud.
Beverage industry lip service to the childhood obesity crisis is no longer enough. If you want us to buy you that drink and, like you say, want to be part of the solution, here is what America's children and families need you to do:
1. Stop all advertising and promotion of sugary drinks to children under the age of 16. Think of the money this will save you given the over $500 million you spend annually to promote sugary drinks to children!
2. Print prominent warning notices stating the link between consumption and obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. Offering no nutritional benefit, soda does nothing but deliver to consumers empty calories in the form of sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup, along with an array of harmful health consequences. Like its cancer stick cousins, soda should carry warning labels that tell consumers the harm it is doing to them when they drink the product.
3. Stop selling sugary drinks in places frequented by children. Soda has no place in schools, parks, zoos and rec centers. Do we allow cigarette and liquor sales in the playground? Of course not, and neither should we permit the sale of soda and other sugary beverages in places where children study, play and congregate.
4. Put in large print the number of teaspoons of sugar per container. Imagine a bottle boasting the sugar content of the beverage. That’s what we're talking about. Let's see you step up and show the consumer what they're buying in the same way you're happy to tell them what a powerful antioxidant the product contains.
5. Stop marketing sports drinks as a healthy beverage. Come on guys. It's disingenuous to sell a sugar-packed product designed for consumption by sweat-drenched athletes as something the rest of us can benefit from. It's time to stop marketing sports drinks to the public as if people need them to be healthy. We know that "electrolytes" are just a bunch of salt.
6. Charge more for sugary drinks than equivalent no-calorie beverages. Here's an idea your board of director can be excited about. You are charging too little for this junk, whose inflation-adjusted price has dropped 35 percent since the 1980s, compared to an increase of nearly the same amount for fresh fruits and vegetables. If you want to show how much you care about consumers and about helping to curb the obesity epidemic, then charge more for the sugar-laden beverage than you do for the no-cal version. You'll make the same amount of money and we'll all be a little healthier.
7. Stop promoting the sale of sugary drinks at store entrances, checkout aisles, and on store windows. Soda should be hidden in the back of the store. A parent of young children shouldn't have to steer his or her way through a gauntlet of brightly packaged, heavily promoted sugary drinks to get out of the store. So stop selling and promoting your junk beverages as if they were harmless.
It's easy really. Beverage companies interested in becoming a part of the solution to the obesity epidemic have to halt their harmful marketing practices and make parents' jobs easier rather than harder. Here's hoping it's a smaller waist that'll be bellying up to the bar soon. Please don't disappoint America's kids.
Joel Epstein is a Los Angeles-based strategic communications consultant and writer. He is also an at-large board member of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.