Coca-Cola Sponsored Health Round Table at Phoenicia Beirut

Following my latest post, #ShareDiabetesSawa, which demystified soft drinks ingredients and tackled the strong marketing Coca-Cola campaign that has now reached Lebanon, I got invited by Memac Ogilvy, the marketing and communications agency behind Coca Cola Middle East, to attend a private round table with health experts from the States, France and Lebanon followed by lunch at Phoenicia Hotel, Beirut last Tuesday. The round table was to precede a two-hour conference given by the same health experts at the American University of Beirut and sponsored by Coca Cola.
I was aware of the ” Nutrition and Exercise For Health: Emerging Updates” symposium a few days before but since I knew Coca Cola was the sponsor behind it, I decided against attending. Plus, it was at an inconvenient time for me to go to Beirut. However, when I received an email from Memac Ogilvy saying they have read my post and I would benefit from this private health panel, I found it to be a great opportunity to ask some of the questions that have been nagging me for long.

And I did. Here are some of the topics that I discussed and asked about:
– Marketing and advertising junk to kids and teens
– Not all calories are equal. How can coke which is void of any nutrients and full of sugar be part of a healthy diet?
– It isn’t all about calories anyway? What about the chemicals and additives that have been linked to various diseases?
– Pushing exercise as the sole solution to obesity is unrealistic. Plus, in ads like burning off a Coke while biking for half an hour, we are showing an unhealthy relationship to exercise.
– How can academics, doctors and nutrition professors be sitting on the same table with sponsors like Coca-Cola and not have any bias? It’s a pure conflict of interest.

I got so many replies, and they mostly ranged from justifications to answers that we have become much aware of when it comes to debating science with food and beverage companies.

I cannot possibly repeat all the answers in one post. Otherwise, it’s gonna be one of those lengthy, kind of sad and enraging reads. Instead, I’ll be referencing two articles I read and loved this week.

The first article is a direct reply to the “Exercise is Medicine” campaign started by The Beverage Institute of Health and Wellness from the Coca Cola company (oxymoron alert!). The same principle that Coca-Cola was trying to propagate throughout this two-hour symposium in Beirut.

Here are some excerpts from this article written a few months ago but which I urge you to read.

140 calories aren’t the problem,

“Soda isn’t on the “don’t” list because it’s a calorie bomb, but because its calories are entirely empty. One can of soda has more sugar than what we should consume in an entire day.” In fact, the American Heart Association recommends women have no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day and men have no more than 9. We’ve already established that a can of Coke contains 10.

“Exercise won’t solve obesity
Most people will not lose weight when they start an exercise program. To lose weight they’ll need to also watch what they eat, i.e., eat less.”

“We need to be active for our health and well being, not so that we’ll be rewarded with eat-less-of food.” We should not just watch the quantity of what we are eating, but also the quality of our calories as these nutrients are fueling our workouts and bodies.

The second article was written by Dr. David Katz, in which he compares obesity to drowning. An awesome read which I will mention a few points of here.

According to Katz, in order to “fix” obesity, we should start seeing obesity as drowning. As we do not accept a debate on “personal responsibility” when it comes to drowning, we shouldn’t accept it in the case of obesity. As much as parents should watch their kids at the pool, there should also be lifeguards and fences and warning signs. As much as parents should teach their kids to eat healthy, governments should set policies and restrictions on the marketing of junk food, and scientists and the food industry should not mislead us when it comes to the true dangers of our modern food system.

Katz continues, “If we treated drowning like obesity, we would have no lifeguards at the beach. We would not teach our children to swim. We would allow signage at a shore with notorious rip tides to read: “come on in, the water’s fine!””

And that is exactly what the food industry is doing…

Note: If you are enjoying this kind of posts, please leave a comment below. We can go deeper into each point in separate posts if you like.

2 thoughts on “Coca-Cola Sponsored Health Round Table at Phoenicia Beirut

  1. Well said Christelle!
    It bugs me now how soft drinks have become part of the culture.
    Have you ever noticed it is serves in funerals just like coffee?

    I made the decision. Only if I slip one or twice that I’d let myself have a serving that I will not enjoy.

    • Thank you Hisham! And this is exactly what I’m talking about. When some dietitians, doctors and athletes endorse soft drinks and other junk, they are indirectly making people believe that this is okay and that these stuff can be part of a healthy diet, where in fact they are partly responsible for the obesity epidemic.

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