Stephen Jardine: Beware Coke Christmas trucks bearing ‘gifts’

The Coca-Cola Christmas truck (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
The Coca-Cola Christmas truck (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
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A sugary drink giveaway by Coca-Cola is ‘last thing children need’ at Christmas, writes Stephen Jardine

Apparently, the holidays are coming. There was a time when Christmas was a good enough term to describe the run-up to the end of the year. Then the Americans got involved. Just as Hallowe’en has now become a US-inspired trick-or-treat fright fest, the festive season is slowly being re-engineered to fit the needs of the giant corporations. Out in front in all of this is the big daddy of them all, Coca Cola.

Not content with selling nearly two billion cans or bottles in the thirsty summer months, Coke decided they needed to get a tighter grip on winter too so the Coca Cola Christmas Truck Tour was created.

Last weekend the tour kicked off in Glasgow where 28 per cent of children are overweight and 15 per cent are obese. This weekend it is in Newcastle, handing out samples at a number of locations. One excited mum told her local newspaper: “It’s traditional, we come to see it every year.”

Now traditions are a good thing and Christmas is the perfect time for them, but don’t we have enough already? With the baby Jesus, carols and presents round the tree, do we really have need a giant juggernaut with fairy lights dispensing sugary drinks to kids?

READ MORE: Health chief urges Coca-Cola festive truck not to give sugary drinks to children

Health campaigners say no and they’ve called for the tour to be banned. The head of Public Health England (PHE) said it was “the last thing children need”.

“We’re encouraging local authorities to have conversations about how marketing campaigns like this involving free sugary drinks are compatible with bringing down concerning rates of obesity and dental decay in children. The link between childhood obesity and deprivation is well established and it’s important to note the truck will be visiting some of our poorest areas.” said PHE director Dr Alison Tedstone.

Coke’s response seemed designed to make any critics look like Ebeneezer Scrooge. “The truck tour is a one-off, annual event where we offer people a choice of 150ml samples of Coca-Cola Classic, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar or Diet Coke – so two of the three options are no-sugar drinks. This is also reflected in the take-up of samples on the truck tour – with on average over 70 per cent of what we sample being a zero-sugar option,” said a spokesperson.

But just as a puppy is for life and not just for Christmas, it is the long-term impact of the Coca Cola truck tour that is the real worry. A few samples in a shopping centre car park are not going to destroy the health of the next generation. The problem is the subliminal message given out that this product equals good times and is so prized that it’s worth queuing up for a selfie with a lorry.

That truck will travel more than 4,000 miles over the next few weeks handing out samples to children and families. Quite how that squares with Coke’s supposed commitment to the environment and sustainability is another interesting question but the fundamental point here is about corporate social responsibility.

New figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show obesity in Britain has almost doubled in the past three decades and we now have the highest rate in western Europe. Nearly a third of us are tipping the scales at levels damaging to our health.

When it comes to obesity, we are now the fifth worst country in the world. Still holding the top spot with big chubby fingers, it is the United States of America – home to the Coca Cola Corporation.

On top of all this, our obesity problem gets worse every year so how about starting a new tradition Coca Cola? Why not continue the Christmas truck tour with the fairy lights and the family photos but just hand out water instead?

That would be a proper present for the growing population of this country.