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Coca-Cola launches ads on obesity

In an interactive marketing blitz during the big

In an interactive marketing blitz during the big game, Coca-Cola is asking viewers to cheer for a troupe of showgirls, a band of cowboys and a biker-style gang of "badlanders" -- all on a quest for a thirst-quenching Coke in a desert. Credit: Getty Images, 2012

Coca-Cola became one of the world's most powerful brands by equating its soft drinks with happiness. Now it's taking to the airwaves for the first time to address a growing cloud over the industry: obesity.

The Atlanta-based company Monday began airing a two-minute spot during the highest-rated shows on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC in hopes of flexing its marketing muscle in the debate over sodas and their impact on public health. The ad lays out Coca-Cola's record of providing drinks with fewer calories and notes that weight gain is the result of consuming too many calories of any kind -- not just soda.

For Coca-Cola, the world's No. 1 beverage company, the ads reflect the mounting pressures on the broader industry. Later this year, New York City is set to enact a first-in-the-nation cap on the size of soft drinks sold at restaurants, movie theaters and sports arenas. The mayor of Cambridge, Mass., has introduced a similar measure, saying she was inspired by New York's move.

Research in the past year also suggests sugary drinks cause weight gain. A decades-long study involving more than 33,000 Americans suggested drinking sugary beverages enhances a person's risk of obesity beyond what it would be from heredity alone.

Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, was skeptical about Coca-Cola's ads and said the company would stop fighting soda taxes if it was serious about helping reduce obesity.

Coca-Cola said its ads aren't a reaction to negative public sentiment. "There's an important conversation going on about obesity out there, and we want to be a part of the conversation," said Stuart Kronauge, general manager of sparkling beverages for Coca-Cola North America.

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