Coke PR Campaigns Tried to Influence Teens’ Views on Health Impacts of Soda, Study Says

News Release

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, December 18, 2019
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin, +1 415 944-7350

Internal Coca-Cola Company documents show how the company intended to use public relations campaigns to influence teens’ sense of the health risks of its products, including sugary soda, according to a study published today in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

One Coca-Cola document shows that its public relations campaign goals included to “Increase Coke brand health scores with teens” and to “Cement credibility in the health and well-being space.”

The study was produced by Australia’s Deakin University and U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit consumer and public health group.  It is based on two Coca-Cola Company public relations requests for proposals, for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games and for its Movement Is Happiness campaign. U.S. Right to Know obtained the documents through state public records requests.

“The documents show that Coca-Cola tried to use public relations to manipulate teens into thinking that sugary soda is healthy, when really it increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and other ills,” said Gary Ruskin, a co-author of the study, and co-director of U.S Right to Know. “Tobacco companies shouldn’t tell teens what is or is not healthy, and neither should Coca-Cola.”

“We are calling for governments and public health agencies to investigate how Coca-Cola uses public relations to manipulate children and teenagers in ways that may harm their health,” Ruskin said.

The study concludes that, “Coke’s intent and ability to use PR campaigns to market to children should cause serious public-health concern, given that the exposure of children to the marketing of unhealthy foods is likely to be an important contributor to increased childhood obesity rates.”

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“Globally, Coke makes public pledges to reduce the exposure of children to marketing of unhealthy products. But what they say in public is at odds with their internal documents that show how they deliberately set out to target children as part of their promotion efforts”, said co-author of the study, Associate Professor Gary Sacks from Deakin University.

The study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health was co-authored by Benjamin Wood, a doctoral student at Deakin University; Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know, and Deakin University Associate Professor Gary Sacks.

The key documents from the study are also available in the Food Industry Documents Archive of the UCSF Industry Documents Library, in the USRTK Food Industry Collection.

For more information about U.S. Right to Know, see our academic papers at https://usrtk.org/academic-work/. For more general information, see usrtk.org.

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