Next Up on the Blame Game: Coca-Cola

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But there was no saving her now. Her body was swelling up and changing shape at such a rate that within a minute it had turned into nothing less than an enormous round blue ball — a gigantic blueberry, in fact — and all that remained of Violet Beauregarde herself was a tiny pair of legs and a tiny pair of arms sticking out of the great round fruit and little head on top.

Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Congratulations, America. The majority of us are now Violet Beauregardes. Well, we’re not exactly blueberries, but American bodies have swelled enough in recent years to re-categorize obesity from a problem to an epidemic. And all because we made the same mistake as Violet: we didn’t listen to what the experts said about what we put in our mouths. We greedily take the foods we want most and guzzle them down without thinking about the consequences.

The issue of American obesity has recently resurfaced in the media, which stems from a study funded by the Coca-Cola company that suggests Americans wishing to lose weight focus too much on eating habits and not enough on physical exercise. The organization responsible for the study, the Global Energy Balance Network, states that many people constantly eat too much food and blame fast food companies and sugary drink producers for their weight problems. Steve Blair, the president of the organization, says that individuals need to create a balance in which their energy intake through food equals the energy that they burn through physical exercise and day-to-day activities.

Studies show that soda consumption has declined since 1986. In fact, between the years 1998 and 2014, the consumption of full calorie sodas declined by 25%. This is probably attributable to scientific studies that link sugary drinks to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and death (not to mention obesity). In addition, with the threat of a new bill that taxes $0.01 per teaspoon of caloric sweetener, it’s only natural that junk-food producing companies, like Coca-Cola, will be looking for new ways to spark interest in their products.

Knowing the pressure that Coca-Cola is facing, critics are quick to put a knife to the company’s throat, suggesting that it has paid researchers to obfuscate data and coerce Americans to buy more of their product. They compare the recent Coca-Cola research to tactics that were previously used to sell tobacco, claiming it was a “healthy” product. Some even go so far as to accuse Coca-Cola of trying to see how stupid and naïve the American population can truly be. But that’s where critics are wrong. Coca-Cola is not trying to claim that its products are healthy or can be used for weight loss. They simply state that a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle should work hand in hand to create an effective weight management plan.

To back up their claims, critics are citing other studies that link sugary beverages to 184,000 adult deaths per year, with 25,000 of them being American. These critics hope to show America that the consumption of these drinks has created America’s obesity problem. However, to assume that all of these deaths were simply the cause of drinking a can of Coke is exceptionally callow. There is a multitude of confounding factors that go into effective weight loss. According to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute (NBLI), obesity is caused by a consistent lack of energy balance in which the energy in doesn’t equal the energy out, which is exactly what Coca-Cola has been trying to say. The NHBL lists the following reasons to explain how one’s energy could be out of balance: an inactive lifestyle, the environment, genetics and family history, health conditions, medicines, emotions, quitting smoking, age, pregnancy, and lack of sleep. Another study that critics cite lasted one year and asked obese individuals to exercise 5-6 hours per week without changing their diets. Results showed that women only lost 2.5 pounds and men lost 3.5 pounds, which apparently wasn’t substantial enough to prove that exercise helps with weight loss. Once again, supporters of this study fail to realize the complexity that accompanies trying to maintain a healthy weight.

Those that point fingers at Coca-Cola for the reason that obesity is an epidemic in America seem to forget that Coca-Cola has made substantial efforts to tackle the problem. Not only have they created smaller can sizes for their products, but they have also created clear labels that tell consumers exactly how many calories the can contains. All the information that consumers need to make informed dietary choices is in plain view. Coca-Cola is simply being the Willy Wonka in our Chocolate Factory. They warned us, through the ingredients and calories listed on their nutrition labels, that drinking a bottle of Coca-Cola could hurt our health, but we didn’t care. We grabbed that ice-cold bottle of soda and chugged ourselves into obesity. Coca-Cola isn’t to blame for America’s obesity epidemic; we are.

A few years ago, my mother was diagnosed with diabetes and was told that she needed to make substantial lifestyle changes to avoid having to take insulin shots every day. She began to look at the labels for everything to make sure that products did not contain added, unnecessary sugars. Imagine her surprise when finding out that one brand of black beans had listed sugar as an ingredient, while another did not. In fact, so many canned goods that seem to be healthy and pure actually contain tons of added sugar and other ingredients that taint their healthy connotation.

Many American food products are highly processed and packed full of unhealthy ingredients that, if often eaten in large quantities, could lead to substantial weight gain. However, the companies who produce these products are not to blame for America’s obesity either. Like Coca-Cola, he ingredients and calorie counts are on the item labels. All a consumer needs to do is read the label and use this information to determine whether purchasing the product is a smart and “healthy” decision. The problem is that many Americans are unaware of or choose to ignore these labels, only to blame their weight gain on the product itself.

In addition, American portion sizes are also much larger than those in many other countries. It seems as though Americans are obsessed with getting the most for their hard earned money, so fast food restaurants and grocery stores have felt the need to accommodate our consumer desires. This would not be a problem if Americans were able to accurately portion-control their meals. Unfortunately, many Americans are prone to over-eating when they’re stressed, upset, or trying to lose weight through binge dieting.

However, food consumption is not the only problem. Studies show that only 42% of 6-11 year olds and only 8% of 12-15 year olds meet the minimum criteria for daily exercise. Americans, in general, spend too much time being sedentary, by sitting in front of the television or the computer instead of participating in physical activities. Many suggest that the peak in childhood obesity has a lot to do with the lifestyles that parents create for their kids.

Critics say that increased physical activity cannot lead to substantial weight loss but I disagree. While my mother was going through her diabetic-induced lifestyle change, I was caught in the middle of my “chubby” teenage years. I was spending all of my free time on the couch watching television and I was eating Top Ramen as a snack everyday, washing it down with Coca-Cola, and eating dinner and two hours later (plus ice cream for dessert). I was not eating because I was hungry, nor was I paying attention to what I ate. I had no idea that maybe it wasn’t the best idea to eat an entire box of Junior Mints in one sitting, just because I was bored. I wasn’t reading labels, I wasn’t aware of the chemicals or calories that I was consuming, and I wasn’t being active. However, once I became aware that I had gained a substantial amount of weight, I began to start going to the gym. I starting using the elliptical, then the bike, and gradually worked my way up. Like many Americans, I did not change my dietary habits and did not see a substantial change.

That changed when I got to college. I kicked up my cardio levels when I got bored of the bike and the elliptical and I started running. I realized that running helped to relieve a lot of my stress and anxiety and helped me focus better throughout the day. I was no longer tired or irritable; I had energy. With this new energy, I was more motivated to steer my food choices in a healthier direction. I started reading labels like my mother. I stopped eating Pop Tarts for breakfast and cafeteria pizza for lunch. I stopped drinking sodas and focused my attention on drinking more water. I started eating more vegetables and fruits and I switched to buying packaged goods without any added sugar. Once I changed my diet, I found I had even more energy than when I was just working out alone. It was with this combination of a clean diet and adequate exercise that I started to lose weight. From then on, I haven’t had the desire to eat unhealthy foods. I don’t find myself craving Snickers bars or sodas; they just simply don’t sound appetizing anymore. So even though physical activity alone did not dictate my weight loss, it sparked the lifestyle change that I needed to maintain a healthier weight.

To say Coca-Cola has nothing to do with the obesity epidemic is naïve. They provide the American public with unhealthy goods that could lead to weight gain and obesity if they are not consumed in moderation within a healthy lifestyle. However, to say that Coca-Cola is the reason why Americans are obese is completely irresponsible and incorrect. Coca-Cola doesn’t shove its products down our throats; we willingly purchase and consume these products, even though their labels tell us how horrible they are for our bodies. Coca-Cola may have prompted a study to boost sales in their products, but we should be smart enough to read the labels that tell us the truth. Violet didn’t blame Willy Wonka for turning her into a blueberry; why should we blame Coca-Cola for making America obese?

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