What are the most popular drinks in America? Number one, Coke, number two, Diet Coke and number three — gasp! — Pepsi. Yes, Diet Coke just trumped Pepsi as the number two selling soda in the world. Ah, we love a good fight, and after the Coke versus Pepsi challenge in the 80s this rivalry for top pop has been a favorite American pastime. Both sides have engaged in dirty tricks from product placements, to celebrity endorsements, to — oh yeah — paying money so they can have their soda machines inside public schools. No child left behind, right? Not without a soda in their hands.
Back in the late 90s when soda companies thought of this genius win-win marketing campaign, there was some outcry, but it fell on the deaf empty pockets of school officials who wanted chalk for their chalkboards. A huge win for both brands: sell to the kiddies when Mom and Dad can’t monitor them, and in exchange schools get little trinkets like books. Headlines had quotes like this from one school superintendent praising Pepsi because the soda company helped “finance school landscaping, purchased jackets for the security staff, sponsored academic and multicultural events and supplied a scoreboard, too.”
Amazingly even the venerable Washington Post printed this in a 1999 article:
“The National Soft Drink Association has challenged the information being presented by the health advocates, calling it ‘an insult to consumer intelligence.’ Any attempts to link soft drinks to health problems, the group says, ‘are not supported by the facts.’ To be sure, no direct connection has been established between increased soda consumption and increased obesity.”
To be sure? Well, though we find that hard to believe, perhaps there was no evidence at all that drinking spoonfuls of liquid sugar caused obesity. At any rate, today we’re pretty fat. Childhood obesity has skyrocketed since that article was written and studies on the dangers of cola are now everywhere and definitively show things like links to diabetes.
And it’s not just full-sugar colas that cause problems — there is more and more proof that diet drinks as well could be adding to the obesity problem and health issues like bone loss. Research suggests artificial sweeteners can trick our brains into wanting more sweets and make us hungrier with their empty sugarless calories. So giving the kiddies diet alternatives could be equally detrimental to their waistlines.
In any event, we’re not saying we don’t appreciate the lawns, or the books, or the security jackets, but really dressing up like good guys and taking your fight to the school grounds was a low blow for both of you. The good guys stepped in with pedometers blazing. Michelle Obama came in with celebrities like Jamie Oliver and tried to start a “food revolution.”
After much pressure in 2010, Pepsi made a dramatic call to remove the “full-sweetened” sugary drinks from schools and Coca-Cola offered to not sell to primary school children. The latest reports on this were in March of last year, now keep in mind — they weren’t offering to get their vending machines off school grounds (not the pretty landscaped lawns these major soda warriors helped fund).
So who’s to blame? Well Michael Jackson is dead, so we can’t blame him for starting the pop star pop endorsement campaigns. We can’t blame these “self-regulating” companies for being good ol’ American capitalists, working hard to make a buck or a billion. We can’t blame our new government who is actively trying to bring nutritious lunches into our schools. We can’t blame you, because you are busy forwarding this to your friends on Facebook and Twitter.
Coke and Pepsi soda wars, food revolutions and the political rhetoric makes these “food fights” seems so much more “fat-inating” (to watch on TV, while we sit and eat, instead of writing to our local legislator.) Wait, maybe it’s okay to blame Diet Coke.