Coca-Cola has been accused of using a £20 million anti-obesity drive to distract attention from its contribution to Britain’s obesity epidemic.
The drinks giant plans to pour millions into fitness programme called Coca-Cola Zero ParkLives, offering thousands of free sessions and coaching for families across 70 parks in England.
But the announcement immediately attracted criticism from nutrition campaigners who have labelled the scheme “obscene”.
Dr Aseem Malhotra, cardiologist and science director for the Action on Sugar campaign group, told The Daily Telegraph: “I think this is a really disingenuous stunt. They are trying to deflect attention from their own part in creating an obesity epidemic, which has been fuelled almost entirely by rising calorie consumption.”
Dr Malhotra added the programme was “obscene” because it encouraged such companies to associate themselves with active lifestyles.
Critics have cited warnings from Public Health England that soft drinks and fruit juices packed with sugar are creating an obesity epidemic, especially among young people.
A report commissioned by the National Diet and Nutrition Survey earlier this month found that those aged between four and 18 months are consuming around 40 per cent more sugar than is recommended.
The findings also suggested that soft drinks like Coca-Cola contributed to 30 per cent of sugar intake of those aged between 11 and 18.
But the company has insisted that is playing a part in tackling obesity in Britain, arguing that 40 per cent of sales now come from ‘zero calorie’ versions of the drink.
Coca-Cola’s general manager Jon Woods stressed the company was refusing to shy away from obesity and refused to accept blame for the epidemic.
He said: “We have set out in the last two years that we want to play a more productive role in finding solutions to obesity; historically we would have shied away from this but we are taking a more proactive approach; this is about calories in and calories out and getting the energy balance right.”
Mr Woods added that the project’s aim was to encourage young people who wouldn’t normally take part in sport to be more active.
The new Coca-Cola programme is to be overseen by health quango UK Active, and has received the backing of former Olympic athlete, Sebastian Coe.