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We are the world; we are the soda companies

Submitted by on Tuesday, 9 March 2010 No Comment

It’s not quite the east coast and west coast rappers sitting down over tea and crumpets, but when three manufacturing rivals get together for a joint project, it’s big news.

Except in the case of the coming Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper media blitz, the news isn’t as huge as it seems. Not by a long shot. It’s actually four years old.

The three companies are joining forces, according to Ad Age, in a print and broadcast campaign that touts industry efforts to remove full-calorie sodas from schools. It’s doubtful that the ads mention that the efforts came as the industry had a gun to its head.

The media campaign comes as states across the country look at mounting public health care bills caused in part by rising levels of obesity. They want help paying, which is why they’re eying additional taxes on junk food and beverages. Or else they’re just blindly grabbing at any possible source of revenue. Flip a coin on that one.

And the “efforts” resulted from a deal brokered in 2006 . It was an easy one for the manufacturers to make, as state after state moved to ban sodas in schools. In making it, the manufacturers made no promises about  sports drinks that have almost as many calories as regular soda. And, of course, juice largely was allowed to remain.

Coca Cola owns Minute Maid. Pepsi owns Ocean Spray, Dole and Tropicana. Dr. Pepper-Snapple owns Motts, which isn’t as big a player but at least it’s something.

Everyone smiled, everyone was happy. Meanwhile, the obesity epidemic showed little sign of slowing. While there’s strong evidence linking increased soda consumption to excess weight, the link is not so clear between bans and reduced consumption. Some research indicates that bans have no effect.

Which brings us to today when, in a new spirit of cooperation and a growing concern for public health that has everything to do with First Lady Michelle Obama’s shot across the bow as part of her anti-obesity campaign, the manufacturers are eager to tell Americans how much they’ve done for us.

“Initiatives like school beverages guidelines and the ‘clear on calories’ initiative will have far more impact in addressing childhood obesity than a tax ever will,” a trade association spokesman told Ad Age.

Maybe, maybe not.

If money from a soda tax simply disappears into a general revenue black hole, then he’s right. If it goes to create public service announcements that everyone will ignore, then he’s correct.

But if such a tax were dedicated to an obesity program that would work – funding nutritionists to work out of public clinics, which would in turn issue weight-loss “prescriptions” to patients and follow up to make sure they follow them – then the money could have quite an impact.

Or if the money were used to make sure poor neighborhoods have access to healthful food, it would help. Better yet,  cut the corn subsidy and apply it to broccoli instead.

None of that appears to be in play in many states considering the tax.

“The thinking is No. 1, we need money,” Kansas Senate Vice President John Vratil told The Kansas City  Star.

He quickly added that, oh, yeah, there’s an obesity epidemic, too, but it’s clear where the priorities lie.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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