Pop quiz, everybody:

The opposite of good is:

  • bad
  • fun
  • Pepsi

If you answered a), you’re probably a mom. If you answered b), you’re probably a kid, or a PepsiCo executive. If you answered c), you’re 33% less likely to become obese.

Unless you have an addiction or a profit incentive, you probably know by now that soda is not good for your health. Soda delivers empty calories that you’re body doesn’t recognize as food, and which carry no nutritional value. Drinking soda on a regular basis is linked to tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, kidney problems, and a host of other health problems.

Under assault by common sense, the bloated soft drink industry is clumsily lunging for a makeover. PepsiCo is trying to remake its image from being the purveyor of sugary, salty snacks to being the purveyor of slightly-less-sugary, slightly-less-salty, but no-less-delicious snacks it calls its “Fun For You” line. That’s compared to its “Good For You” and “Better For You” lines, which are mostly composed of Quaker, Dole and Tropicana products.

The Economist reports, “To that end, on March 22nd [company president Indra Nooyi] unveiled a series of targets to improve the healthiness of Pepsi’s wares. By 2015 the firm aims to reduce the salt in some of its biggest brands by 25%; by 2020, it hopes to reduce the amount of added sugar in its drinks by 25% and the amount of saturated fat in certain snacks by 15%.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re bowing to public opinion and at least making an effort to improve the healthiness of their products. But PepsiCo trying to reduce the amount of sugar in sodas sounds a bit like Phillip Morris trying to take the nicotine out of cigarettes. The reason people drink Pepsi is for the sugar and caffeine rush, just like the reason most people smoke cigarettes is for the nicotine rush. If a company knows that their products are unhealthy and addictive, the honest thing to do would be to completely revamp their product line, or get out of the business. Making minor alterations to an essentially unhealthy product is not enough.   

First Lady Michelle Obama, continuing her Let’s Move campaign to reduce childhood obesity, recently called the major food conglomerates on this behavior. At a recent speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, she was, by all reports, tactful but direct in her assertion that their products contributed to childhood obesity. She called on them “not just to tweak around the edges, but to entirely rethink the products that you're offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children.” The audience, including representatives from PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Con Agra, McDonalds and Kraft, gave her a standing ovation.

What accounted for their enthusiasm? It could be that they believe they are already in compliance with her requests. In an official press statement, the GMA claimed, “Our industry is an enthusiastic supporter of Mrs. Obama’s ‘Let’s Move!’ initiative and its goal of solving childhood obesity within a generation. In recent years, our companies have reduced calories, sugar, fat and sodium in more than 10,000 products. They have also enhanced the nutritional profile of many products with the addition of whole grains, fiber or other nutrients and created the informative and convenient 100-calorie pack.”

Here’s a question: if PepsiCo is so committed to the health of its consumers, why do they call their most unhealthy products “fun?” Doesn’t this give kids the message that foods that are bad for you are fun? Diabetes is not fun. Obesity is not fun. So let’s cut the corporate doublespeak and call it like it is. I’ll let the courageous Mrs. O have the last word:

“…what [change] doesn’t mean is taking out one problematic ingredient, only to replace it with another.  While decreasing fat is certainly a good thing, replacing it with sugar and salt isn’t.  And it doesn’t mean compensating for high amounts of problematic ingredients with small amounts of beneficial ones -- for example, adding a little bit of Vitamin C to a product with lots of sugar, or a gram of fiber to a product with tons of fat doesn’t suddenly make those products good for our kids.

This isn’t about finding creative ways to market products as healthy.  As you know, it’s about producing products that actually are healthy -- products that can help shape the health habits of an entire generation."