Coca-Cola’s New Exercise Tool

How far do you need to walk to burn off that sugary soft drink?

Coca-Cola seems to be taking the soda and obesity debate to heart. The latest salvo: an online tool that reveals how much time you have to spend walking, washing windows or doing other activities in order to burn off a 12-ounce can of Coke. The Coca-Cola Work It Out Calculator launched in early November on the Coca-Cola U.K. website and quickly spread worldwide.

For example, it takes about a half-hour of dog walking or window washing, or 21 minutes of tennis, to use up the roughly 150 calories in a Coke, Sprite or Dr Pepper. In contrast, diet sodas require practically no exercise, per the calculator.

A company rep said Coke has no plans to bring the program to the United States, but, of course, it's already bouncing around the U.S. as users blog about it, tweet and share it—encouraged by the tool’s prominent “tell your friends” button.

In the states, reactions have been mixed. Fooducate, a health-related blog with a popular iPhone and Android app, linked to the branded tool, then complained that “a company that peddles sugar water is co-opting physical fitness, when the reality is soft drinks contribute to the obesity epidemic.”

Tech site Ubergizmo covered the calculator’s “fun” functionality, but noted that some busy folks might decide just to skip the fizzy drinks so they could save the time needed to burn them off.

Others, however, pointed out that the calculator helps educate consumers on energy balance with useful information on calories, as well as nutrition and exercise tips.

Coca-Cola has aligned itself with fitness education in other ways in the U.S. as it faces anti-soft drink regulation like New York’s ban on large-size servings. The philanthropic Coca-Cola Foundation and the American College of Sport Medicine, for instance, are planning to place 100 fitness centers in schools across the county over the next five years. These centers will be unbranded and will not serve Coca-Cola beverages, said Katie Busch, director of brand and business communications for Coke.

“We support physical activity in communities around the country not because it’s trendy or good for business, but because it’s the right thing to do,” Busch said.

In Chicago, where the City Council considered and rejected a soda tax this year, the Coca-Cola Foundation gave $3 million to the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance in November to set up nutrition education and exercise programs in the city. A month earlier, the foundation also gave $100,000 to the Illinois African American Coalition for its healthy eating and fitness program.