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San Francisco Chronicle

Coca-Cola Asks: How Stupid Are You, Really?

Sodas and junk food are finally getting called out for their role in the obesity epidemic—so Coca-Cola is going on the defensive. (Photo: Kristin Andrus/flickr/cc)

It’s a pertinent question, sadly: Just how dumb are you, average American? How gullible, how blindly trusting of corporate double-speak, of murky science, the idea that companies famous for making drinks that burn rust off your car really care about your health?

If you’re the Coca-Cola company (or the NRA, or Monsanto, or RJ Reynolds, or Taco Bell, et al), the answer is: Very. You are very stupid. Still. Now and forever. They are counting on it.

Here’s a big story from the NYT not long back, re-confirming a whole raft of studies that point to one rather significant truth, one known to nutritionists and educated fitness gurus for years: While exercise – regular, vigorous, addictive, sweaty, heart-racing, OMG take an Instagram of me exercise – is wildly essential for a whole range of human happy, it’s not actually the key to weight loss.

For that, it’s all about the food. Portion control, better choices, minimal processing, real ingredients. It’s about dramatically reducing the garbage, the chemicals, the excess sugar, the oversized portions, the eating until you’re “stuffed.”

Did you know the all-American “three square meals a day” eating plan is a myth? That eating yourself into a “food coma” is disastrous for your body? That there’s a good reason why one of the Internet’s first smash-hit viral photosets, “This is Why You’re Fat” was made into a book, and into a cultural phenom? It’s common sense made… pornographic. Our dietary choices are killing us.

Don’t misunderstand. Vigorous exercise is still incalculably wonderful. It makes you feel great, builds strength and tone, cranks serotonin, alleviates depression, improves everything from sex to sleep. Few things better for you in the world than moving your body, preferably around some trees, preferably partially naked. I mean, obviously.

But if it’s weight loss you’re after – and more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and one-third are clinically obese – it’s mostly about food choices. Less of it, more plants, grazing lightly only when truly hungry, cutting way back on sugar, salt, excess fats, the usual. Simple, right?

Amusing, then, this story about the Coca-Cola company funding a whole new batch of studies (fronted by a big nonprofit) that entirely reverse this understanding, magically deflecting attention away from their toxic, obesity-inducing products.

Can you guess what their reputable, totally honest, not-at-all-on-Coke’s-payroll scientists discovered?

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That’s right! To paraphrase: “There’s virtually no compelling evidence that eating too much fast food or drinking a billion tons of sugary crap causes obesity, depression, or ill health overall. Poisonous, heavily processed junk food is not the enemy it’s been made out to be. What Americans really need is more exercise.”

Amazing, no? All those other studies are false! Your common sense is flawed! Coke loves kids and families! Also, guns have been great for America, climate change is God’s will and it’s just so great how there’s no more racism.

It’s no wonder Coke is on the defensive. Sodas are finally getting their comeuppance as a destroyer of children, a bringer of obesity and diabetes. And not just sodas; pretty much all of Coke’s product family is grossly unhealthy, from Powerade to Sprite, Vitamin Water to “sugar free Full Throttle” (ugh), Barq’s to Fruitopia. All horrible, all the time.

This just in: Juice boxes are terrible for kids. Snapple is utter crap. Energy drinks are revolting. Vitamin Water is a total scam, has nearly as much sugar (32 grams per bottle!) as a can of Dr. Pepper. If they didn’t add phosphoric acid to soda, you’d instantly vomit from all the sugar.  Also: You’re a sucker for paying more for the same Coke in smaller, cuter cans. Also: This is the way it’s always been. They’re counting on it.

Coca-Cola knows something. They know just how ignorant most Americans are. They know he who has the biggest marketing budget, wins. And they know exactly how much they can get away with, that SCOTUS has made it easier than any time in history for billionaires and corporations to own all sides of an argument (hi, Monsanto!)

Let’s not get too lopsided. It’s possible to get overly fanatical about the anti-sugar thing, too, to get sucked in to the pseudo-scientific BS being touted in something like the popular Australian documentary “Sugar,” another of those “Supersize Me”-style stunt movies which, according to Slate’s ‘Medical Examiner’ columnist Daniel Engber anyway, races right past sugar’s obvious deleterious effects, to claim it’s the root cause of every human calamity you can name, from liver disease to to genitals warts, depression to who killed JFK. Or something. (And you thought gluten was the cause of all human suffering – you’re so 2011). “Sugar” is apparently full of bogus, New Age science, wild exaggerations, experts who aren’t really experts.

Too bad. Coke (and PepsiCo, and fast food titans, the makers of HFCS, and the rest) deserve much condemnation for their ruthless marketing to children and to the lesser-educated, to forcing their way into schools, to manipulating the message however they like. They do not make tasty, all-American happiness. They made junk. Always have, always will.

But they do not seem to care. Why should they? The FDA isn’t nearly nimble enough to keep up (though some progressive cities, increasingly, are). No one stops them from marketing their swill however they want, or from buying their own studies to “prove,” well, whatever calculated deflection of truth they like.

This is the American way, no? Get some exercise! Have a Coke and a smile! Sorry about the obesity and diabetes (but not really).

Mark Morford

Mark Morford's new book, 'The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism,' is now available at, Amazon,, and beyond. Join Mark on Facebook and Twitter, or email him. His website is Mark's column appears every Wednesday on SFGate.

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