Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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Coca-Cola fighting obesity?

Coca-Cola is launching ads tonight expressing concern about the country’s obesity epidemic. The Coke company offering obesity advice seems a bit like Paula Deen discussing diabetes prevention.

Nevertheless, the company will debut a two-minute video ad on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News tonight (Jan. 14) “in hopes of becoming a stronger voice in the intensifying debate over sodas and their impact on public health,”  an Associated Press story says. The company will follow-up with another ad Jan. 16 during “American Idol.”

Coca-Cola hopes to dispel myths about how many calories are in sodas; to encourage people to have fun burning off the calories they take in from sodas (and elsewhere); to promote low- and n0-calorie sodas; and to shift blame for people’s weight woes away from sugary drinks.

You can check out the company’s “Coming Together” ad online here. (This is the ad being shown for the first time tonight.) Much of it involves the company patting itself on the back for selling low/no-calorie beverages and supporting programs that encourage kids to exercise.

The overall intent is clear: The company hopes to convince people that soda is no more to blame for weight problems than any other food or drink. As the ad says, “beating obesity will take action by all of us based on one simple common sense fact: All calories count, no matter where they come from,  including Coca Cola and everything else with calories.”

The ad campaign comes on the heels of stories like this one from CBS News in September, which began: “A huge, decades-long study involving more than 33,000 Americans has yielded the first clear proof that drinking sugary beverages interacts with genes that affect weight, amplifying a person’s risk for obesity beyond what it would be from heredity alone.”

In a column last year, dietitian Jennifer Motl wrote: “If you’re a faithful reader of my column, you know I think sodas are bad for your health. While diet sodas may be marginally healthier than sugary ones, they still may be linked to kidney problems and other health issues. Drinking regular soda may increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and gout, according to several studies…”

I’d no more take dietary advice from Coca-Cola than I’d take lung cancer prevention advice from Phillip Morris. If you want to drink soda, drink it. Hopefully you’ll exercise enough to burn off the calories. Hopefully you’ll brush and floss enough to save your teeth. Hopefully you’ll treat soda like a treat, not a habit.

The new ad campaign aims to create a feel-good sense that all of us — consumers, companies, the medical community, etc — are in this wellness effort together. But it’s ludicrous to think there’s anything virtuous about soda beyond the first sweet sip.

Check out this story for more details.