Coca-Cola at one time wanted to pitch its sugary drinks as healthy for teens, according to a new study.
In the study posted Wednesday in the International Journal of Environmental Researh and Public Health, internal Coca-Cola Company documents showed how it intended to use public relations campaigns to influence teens' sense of the health risks of its products.
One document shows that Coke's 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, one for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and one for an ad campaign titled
"Movement Is Happiness."
"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."
In the United States, the percentage of children and teens affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s, a 2018 study found.
In a statement to CNN Business, Coca-Cola said the report focused on ad campaigns that came out before a 2016 initiative that stopped funding physical activity programs for youths.
"At Coca-Cola, we recognize that too much sugar isn't good for anyone. That's why, around the world, we are reducing the amount of sugar in our products and taking other steps to help people reduce their sugar intake," a spokesperson said.
"We have long had a global policy of not marketing to children under 12, and all of our marketing campaigns are designed to comply with that policy."
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