Coca-Cola's youth campaign moves on despite criticism

ATLANTA - Coca-Cola is launching the second phase of a campaign designed to encourage middle school children to exercise, at a time when the soft drink industry has been criticized for pushing soda in schools while obesity among children climbs.

ATLANTA - Coca-Cola is launching the second phase of a campaign designed to encourage middle school children to exercise, at a time when the soft drink industry has been criticized for pushing soda in schools while obesity among children climbs.

Bill Marks, vice-president of public and media relations at Coke, said the new Step With It! programme is not a response to recent headlines about childhood obesity.

"Its part of a long-term effort Coke started last year to bring additional value to our educational partners. The idea was that parents, teachers, and students understood the value we placed on out partnerships with schools," he said.

Coke announced in March 2001 that it was forming an education advisory council to look at how it could work with schools on education initiatives.

The Step With It! programme was tested this spring in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Houston. The latest phase expands the program to 10 cities, and hopes to reach 50,000 students, Marks said. The program encourages students to walk 10,000 steps a day. Coke is giving students pedometers to keep track of their walking.

Critics of Coke, along with others who have spoken out on the child obesity issue, had mixed reactions to Step With It!

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, "The food industry's strategy on obesity is to talk about exercise, not the junk they're producing."

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