Until now, beverage giant Coca-Cola hasn't put a face to its staunch opposition to last week's proposal by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to limit to 16 ounces the size of sugary drinks sold at New York restaurants, movie theaters and street carts. But in an exclusive interview, Katie Bayne, Coca-Cola's 45-year-old president of sparkling beverages in North America, explains to USA TODAY marketing reporter Bruce Horovitz where she differs with Bloomberg and discusses which beverages she permits her young sons to drink. She will speak on Monday in New York City at a Beverage Digest conference. This interview is edited for clarity and space.
Q: If Mayor Bloomberg were sitting across from you, what would you say to him?
A: I'd say, Mayor, we believe you're absolutely right. Obesity is a critical health challenge facing our nation. But singling out single brands or foods is not going to help the situation. Working together in a partnership will.
Q: Is there any merit to limits being placed on the size of sugary drinks folks can buy?
A: Sugary drinks can be a part of any diet as long as your calories in balance with the calories out. Our responsibility is to provide drink in all the sizes that consumers might need.
Q: Is anyone at Coca-Cola trying to figure out a way to get sugar out of all drinks?
A: There is a large portion of the population that relies on the carbohydrates and energy in our regular beverages. When my son gets home from school, he needs a pick-up with calories and great taste.
Q: But critics call soft drinks "empty" calories.
A: A calorie is a calorie. What our drinks offer is hydration. That's essential to the human body. We offer great taste and benefits whether it's an uplift or carbohydrates or energy. We don't believe in empty calories. We believe in hydration.
Q: Because sugary drinks have been linked with obesity, some suggest soft-drink makers place "warning" labels on cans and bottles.
A: There is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity. If you look at the data, you can see that during the same period obesity was rising, sugar intake from beverages was decreasing. Between 1999 and 2010, sugars from soda consumption decreased by 39%, but the percentage of obese children increased by 7%, and 13% for adults.
Q: Shouldn't teens drink less cola and more milk and water?
A: Teens should get a healthy diet through food and beverage choices throughout the day.
Q: How much Coke should a kid drink a day?
A: We don't make recommendations on what kids should drink. But a 12-ounce can of Coke has 140 calories, the same as a lunch-box-size bag of pretzels.
Q: What sugary drink limits do you place on your kids?
A: My job as a parent is to guide them through the day to make the best choices. If my son has lacrosse practice for three hours, we go straight to McDonald's and buy a 32-ounce Powerade.
Q: What do you drink daily?
A: I might have a mini Diet Coke while cooking breakfast for my family. After the kids leave for school, I go for a run and then have a Powerade Zero. At work I may have a Diet Coke in the morning and in the afternoon, Gold Peak Tea. In the middle of the afternoon, I may have an 8-ounce Coke. I'd rather have that than a candy bar or cookie for a pick-me-up.
Q: What do you say to those who believe that sugar — particularly in soft drinks — works on the brain like an addictive substance?
A: There is no scientific evidence.
Q: Critics say Coke is pushing sugary drinks in China and India and will cause obesity there just like here.
A: Every person in those countries is different and should be able to choose what's right for them.