Ottawa accused of unfairly targeting Coca-Cola products
Published Tuesday, August 21, 2012 12:17PM EDT
There's a battle brewing between one of the world's biggest soft drink companies and the nation's capital, after Ottawa Public Health signalled its intention to launch a "Healthy Eating, Active Living" social media campaign targeting sugar-sweetened soft drinks.
The proposed campaign is in the works, though it hasn't been put into action yet.
The debate is already fizzing, however, amidst reaction to a preliminary report on Ottawa residents' eating and lifestyle habits tabled in preparation for the campaign last year.
Citing a 2011 scientific literature review that links childhood consumption of such drinks and obesity, the report noted that 34 per cent of Ontario students in Grades 7 to 12 drank between two and four soft drinks each week and 12 per cent of students drank one or more every day.
The study also found that 21 per cent of students did not drink any of the sugar-sweetened soft drinks.
Across the province, soft drink makers are only allowed to sell 100 per cent fruit juices and bottled water in elementary schools while high school students are allowed to buy no- and, low-calorie drinks with fewer than 100 calories per container.
The report’s author, Ottawa Medical Officer of Health Dr. Isra Levy, says he's nevertheless obligated to consider the impact of consuming such drinks, and the possibility of recommending they be banned.
"If we over-consume calories through any foods or beverages that we eat or drink, relative to how much time we expend in physical activity then we become fat as individuals and we become fatter as a society," Dr. Levy told CTV Ottawa.
It's his report, submitted to the Ottawa Board of Health in May of this year, that calls for a "Social media campaign on health effects of consuming sugar sweetened beverages including soft drinks, energy and sports drinks, flavoured milks and juices," as one means of achieving the goal of curbing consumption of energy dense, nutrient poor foods and beverages.
Dr. Levy's report also suggests promoting access to fresh, healthy ingredients and teaching people how to prepare them.
But in several letters sent to city politicians last week, local Coca-Cola executives accuse Ottawa of unfairly singling out their products.
"Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada strongly opposes any program that uses taxpayer dollars to unfairly target our products and mislead consumers," the letters stated.
"We expect Ottawa Public Health, as a public institution, to be a source of neutral and unbiased information for consumers."
Coca-Cola and Ottawa are in the midst of a five-year "pouring rights" deal that saw the city paid $135,000 and an annual cut of revenues in exchange for company's exclusive access to vending machines and other points of sale in municipal buildings.
In their company's defence, the executives wrote that Coca-Cola not only adheres to a responsible marketing policy that forbids advertising to children under 12 years of age, but also includes a variety of sugar-free options among its range of beverages.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made headlines in May, when he proposed making it illegal for municipally-regulated food service establishments to sell sugar-sweetened drinks in 470ml or larger sizes. Drinks that are more than half milk or 70 per cent juice would be exempt, as would diet sodas.
The city's Board of Health is expected to vote on the proposed ban in mid-September.