Coke would not be considered a healthy snack by most reputable health experts, but the soft drink company has been using a group of paid nutritionists to launch a campaign painting the sugar-filled drink as a healthy treat.
The company has been partnered with a number of health and fitness experts, reportedly paying them to write columns and blogs that suggest a small can of Coke as a healthy treat. The company’s efforts took place in February, coinciding with American Heart Month, and the timing didn’t sit well with many health and fitness advocates.
Others took issue with the columns — some appearing in major newspapers — that were actually something closer to paid advertisements for Coke.
“This is an example of opaque sponsored content,” said Kelly McBride, media ethics professor at The Poynter Institute.
McBride note that Coke didn’t make it clear that the fitness experts were being paid for their content, instead disclosing only that they were “consultants” for food companies.
Others want the lines between the company and its paid consultants to be clearer.
The Associated Press noted, “Meanwhile, a group called Dietitians for Professional Integrity has called for sharper lines to be drawn between dietitians and companies. Andy Bellatti, one of its founders, said companies court dietitians because they help validate corporate messages.”
Ben Sheidler, a Coca-Cola spokesman, said that major companies paying columnists and bloggers to promote their products is nothing new.
“We have a network of dietitians we work with,” said Sheidler, who declined to say how much the company pays experts. “Every big brand works with bloggers or has paid talent.”
Some of the experts didn’t say that Coke itself was healthy, but suggested a small can instead of a larger one. While some nutrition experts said they agreed with the idea of promoting smaller portion sizes, others disagreed with any notion that a sugar-filled soft drink could be healthy.
There are actually some high-profile advocates of Coke as a healthy part of a diet. Warren Buffet, the 84-year-old Berkshire Hathaway CEO, told Fortune that the soft drink is a major part of his daily diet.
“I’m one quarter Coca-Cola,” he asserted. “If I eat 2,700 calories a day, a quarter of that is Coca-Cola. I drink at least five 12-ounce servings. I do it everyday.”
Other experts say those wondering whether Coke is healthy can judge for themselves. A 12-ounce can of the drink has 140 calories, while the smaller 7.5-ounce size has 90 calories.
[Image via Red Garage]