Public Health Experts Want to Ban Britain's Coca-Cola Christmas Truck

The World Health Organization has called for limiting soda marketing to kids, and the authors describe the holiday truck as a item that needs to go.

In the latest salvo in the soda wars, public health experts writing in BMJ have called for a ban on a Coca-Cola marketing icon in Great Britain: the Happy Holidays truck tour.

The World Health Organization and other experts have singled out marketing to children as one of the key ways that unhealthy food and drink find their way into diets—and stay there. The WHO has previously called on nations to set limits on marketing soda to kids, and the authors of the BMJ piece, “Happy corporate holidays from Coca-Cola,” pull no punches, saying the truck is so embedded in the soda giant’s British campaigns that it has become “a holiday brand” almost as big as Santa Claus himself.

They note that Coca-Cola opened an office next door to the country’s Royal Society of Medicine—a move that evokes what the cigarette industry did in the United States generations ago, when it bought up advertising in leading medical journals like JAMA and the New England Journal of Medicine.

But the authors say the stakes for the health of Britons are too high to allow the holiday truck to continue. They cite a report in October 2015 by Public Health England that shows school-age children consume a particularly high amount of sugary beverages, especially if they are poor. In response the United Kingdom has adopted a soda tax that will begin in 2018.

Of note, the article states that the truck tour generates substantial free publicity across cities in England’s northwest cities, where more than one-third of children are overweight or suffer tooth decay. Children can pose for a free photo with the truck and get a free can of soda. The authors note that publicity in the local papers for the holiday truck offered no alternate viewpoints about drinking soda, drowning out poorly financed public health campaigns against it.

“Apparently, Coca-Cola’s voice counts more than those of the directors of public health,” they wrote, in calling on Public Health England to ban the marketing campaign.

Reference

Ireland R, Ashton JR. Happy corporate holidays from Coca-Cola. BMJ. 2017;356. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6833.