Guess Which Company Is Both Making Us Fat and Funding Anti-Obesity Efforts?

It’s no secret that soft drinks contribute to the worldwide obesity epidemic. So as the philanthropic arm of the maker of one of the world’s most popular soft drinks, the Coca-Cola Foundation has a personal stake in the problem.

And to its credit, it’s doing something about it. This foundation, which has been funding a variety of global health and environmental initiatives across the globe over the last few years, has more recently added funding for anti-obesity initiatives to its repertoire, with a focus on programs that encourage people to be more physically active and to eat healthier diets.

Just last year, the foundation awarded a three-year, $1 million grant to Walk Georgia, a University of Georgia initiative that encourages Georgians of all ages to take up more daily physical activity. The grant pays for enhancements to the website, improvements in services, and outreach to expand the program locally.

And it looks to be part and parcel of a bigger trend. Lori George Billingsly, vice-president of community relations, said at the time that the Walk Georgia grant was an example of “Coca-Cola’s commitment to help people lead active, healthy lifestyles.”

The track record backs her up. The foundation has also recently given a grand total of $3.8 million to community exercise and nutrition programs throughout Georgia.

Georgia was a priority due to its status as the number-one state in the union for obesity. But Coca-Cola’s reach is national and worldwide, and so is its philanthropy. So if you’re nowhere near Georgia but are striving to help consumers eat better and exercise more, you might very well find an interested funding partner in Coca-Cola.

Do note the “community” part of that aforementioned $3.8 million grant sum. Coca-Cola directed much of its grants not to nationwide campaigns, nor to big NGOs whose offices are scattered across tens of thousands of miles, but to local groups doing local work: Groups like the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, which got $1 million from Coca-Cola to expand its leadership development, nutrition education, and academic enrichment offerings to Atlanta’s young people; and the YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta, which received $75,000 for its fitness programs.

The Coca-Cola Foundation is a global entity, and its humanitarian giving covers the globe and addresses some very large-scale challenges in the process, from typhoon relief in the Philippines to women’s empowerment in Nigeria. But on the obesity issue, it seems to take a localized, neighborhood-scale approach with its funding. It reaches out to the individual communities and finds partners within them who can work with it to achieve its anti-obesity goals.

Also know this: Coca-Cola’s anti-obesity giving shows extra concern for youth. The Ryan Cameron Foundation, a local organization dedicated to mentoring and educating youth, also got some Coca-Cola anti-obesity funding. So did Soccer in the Streets, a group whose mission is, not surprisingly, organizing youth soccer matches. 

Of course, if Coca-Cola really wants to make a dent in the obesity epidemic it could try another strategy: Only sell Diet Coke!