Coca-Cola playgrounds: should we be concerned?

  • Posted on: Mar 5 2012

According to this blog on The Chicago Tribune, the Coca-Cola company is donating funding for schools to build playgrounds.

"Last year, however, the school received a $25,000 recreation grant for a new playground from Coca-Cola's Sprite Spark Parks program. At school, the children wrote thank-you letters to Coke; as homework they made healthy resolutions."

As Susan Linn (Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood) says in the article "By having the kids write thank-you notes . . . the message to children is that Coke is a good company and, by extension, that its products are good, too."

This practice of sponsoring playgrounds isn't unique to Coca-Cola. Just check out the Dr.Pepper program "Let's Play." According to it's website, "As part of the Let's Play initiative, Dr Pepper Snapple Group and KaBOOM! will build or fix up 2,000 playgrounds by the end of 2013."

Coca-Cola responded to the blog post in the Chicago Tribune in a letter to the editor saying:

"To set the record straight, Coca-Cola does not market our beverage brands in venues where children under the age of 12 years are the primary audience. Coke has adhered to this policy for more than 50 years, and it extends to youth sporting events and clubs.

What we have done -- and will continue to do -- is support important programs and facilities in the communities where we operate. Earlier this year, we were honored to provide a grant to the Howe Elementary School for the purpose of building a playground. Today, children in the Austin community have a safe place to play where formerly a concrete slab existed. The playground is completely unbranded."

You can read Coca-Cola's full letter to the editor here.

Beverage companies commonly argue that the key to combating the obesity epidemic is increasing physical activity. We agree that physical activity is very important in maintaining overall health. But recent research shows it's far less important than calorie intake in explaining weight gain.1  And according to Michele Simon, quoted in the article, a child who consumes one soda per day for a week would need to ride a bike for 4 hours and 20 minutes to burn off the calories from the soda.

What do you think? Is a beverage industry sponsored playground an altruistic corporate donation, or is this something to be concerned about?

1. Westerterp, K. R. Physical activity, food intake, and body weight regulation: insights from doubly labeled water studies. Nutrition Reviews. 2010. 68; 148-154.