In the fight against obesity, it's all about balance
Rhona Applebaum: Coca-Cola’s active, healthy living philosophy is about encouraging people to eat right and move more. I subscribe to the fact that it’s about the whole diet and not about an individual food, which is what some people tend to focus on.
‘Energy balance’ refers to the concept of balancing calories in with calories out to maintain a healthy weight. Let’s compare two people, one who consumes 2,500 calories per day versus one who consumes only 1,500 calories. You might think the person who only eats 1,500 calories a day would look healthier because he appears thin, but that person probably is not getting all the essential nutrients he needs. At 1,500 calories, he’s probably not going to get the necessary physical activity levels, either.
We have a great wellness facility at our Atlanta headquarters. We have signs throughout our corporate campus reminding employees to take the stairs and to park far away from the entrance. We also provide incentives for our employees around the country to be physically active, including discounted gym memberships, $60-off annual medical contributions just for completing online health assessments, and we also encourage our people to measure their health stats regularly.
I think we’re a part of the solution but it will take all of us — government, business and civil society — working together to find meaningful solutions to such a complex issue. In fact, we worked with the beverage industry to remove full-calorie soft drinks from schools in 2006 and replaced them with lower-calorie, smaller-portion beverage options. By 2010, we reduced beverage calories delivered to schools by a dramatic 90 percent. We are also working with leaders like The National Governors Council on Physical Fitness to build fitness centers across the country that provide the means for people to get active. To help change the way people think about nutrition and exercise we need to work together. What I’d like to see accomplished, and what Coca-Cola is striving for in the schools, is to better develop standards of fitness and nutrition. We have testing standards in basic subjects, but we also need nutrition and fitness standards because kids who eat better, and who are more active, will thrive in school.
We have several programs that are contributing greatly to fostering and teaching principles of healthy lifestyles, but I’ll name two: Triple Play is a program that was launched in 2005 by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services with support from The Coca-Cola Company to encourage kids to eat a balanced diet, become more physically active and increase their ability to engage in healthy relationships. A review of the program found that boys and girls who participated in Triple Play were more physically active and had a better understanding of nutrition than those who did not participate. The kids’ self-esteem also soared.
The National Governors Council on Physical Fitness is also making a big impact. We’ve dedicated more than $5 million to provide 100 communities with new fitness centers for schools. In addition, The Coca-Cola Foundation has awarded $3.4 million in grants to support fitness and nutrition programs in the U.S. and around the world. Working with the National Foundation for Governor's Fitness Councils and the American College of Sports Medicine, Coca-Cola will place 100 new fitness centers in schools across the U.S. over the next five years. The unbranded centers will feature new fitness equipment and provide more than 5 million workouts annually; helping communities put physical activity back into schools.
For my post-graduate work, I focused on science: the theoretical and practical elements in nutrition as well as healthy lifestyle factors; toxicology; plant pathology and sustainable agriculture. Long before the days of social media, I realized the importance of networking and working in a global society. Yes, I’m the first female chief scientist at Coca-Cola. Although women are still underrepresented in science, my abilities were developed because of amazing male mentors. They looked at me as nothing but a professional who they wanted to groom. I am where I am today because of my ‘STEM’ foundation (science, technology, engineering and math) mentoring. We’re not going to be able to compete in terms of pioneering developments in health and science without that kind of mentoring ... I’m very passionate about that.