Blogs Sugar Smart UK

The Coke Truck vs the Tooth Fairies

This weekend saw the Coca-Cola machine rolling into Glasgow to launch their ever more tenuously Christmas-themed truck tour. The announcement of the tour was made hours after Halloween (and ironically coinciding with Sugar Awareness Week), which arguably would be a better theme considering the grisly consequences of too much sugar consumption. 

You’ll have heard the figures for childhood obesity before - that almost 1 in 5 children are overweight or obese when they start primary school and almost 1 in 3 by the time they leave primary school. 

But you may not know that this year was marked by a record high number of amputations – more than 8,500 last year, mostly due to type 2 diabetes. This condition is closely linked with being overweight or obese and diets high in sugar can lead to being overweight or obese. 

So, for World Diabetes Day, Coca Cola have decided to rock up in Newcastle. Coca Cola have history in Newcastle sponsoring Park Lives, which although noble in its aims to encourage more exercise, ends up being a deeply cynical exercise in associating the sugary stuff with the benefits of exercise. To be clear, the link between junk food and sports and leisure is as unacceptable as taking advertising and sponsorship from tobacco. Arguably it should be even more so, as sports and leisure are particularly popular amongst children and families, yet children can’t smoke. I digress.

At every single measure of obesity and diet related disease Newcastle is higher than the English average. 38.8% of children are overweight or obese when they leave primary school. Forget the national average (incidentally this is 34.2%), this is simply unacceptable. And yet Coke think its fine to compound this. There are over 300 hospital admissions a year in Newcastle because of tooth decay. Amongst the under 4s.

Perhaps this is all the more reason why Newcastle is the focus for Hugh Fernley Whittingstall’s latest campaign – NewcastleCan  – to support residents to get in shape. Clearly Coke have misunderstood the meaning of ‘can’ in their latest contribution. Or going by their blatant push back on any attempts for people to have better diets, maybe they are aiming for NewcastleCanned.

All this may seem a bit dispiriting, but encouragingly such behaviour has fomented a friendly fightback. Within a week of the 40+ stop tour being announced, groups from 26 different locations around the UK, including Mayors and Directors of Public Health had signed a letter  to protest about Coca Cola coming to their town and calling upon them to only give out non-sugary drinks. Many have written to the locations hosting the truck to show their displeasure, and some are organising protests, drawing inspiration on the tooth fairy flash mob that appeared at Coke’s London stop last year.

Many of the local SUGAR SMART  campaigns are up in arms about this – or up in wings, with some planning their own tooth fairy stunts to coincide with the coke truck’s arrival. Here’s some ways you can get involved:
1.    Check if the truck is visiting your city at 
2.    Join an existing SUGAR SMART stunt. You can register to help out at  This allows the local SUGAR SMART campaign to get in touch with you. 
3.     Willing to organise your own stunt? Let the SUGAR SMART team know ( as they are exploring what support they can provide. 
4.    Follow SUGAR SMART on social media to get the latest news. Facebook: @SugarSmartCity Twitter: @sugarsmartuk 

This blog first appeared on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution page.


Published Thursday 16 November 2017

Sugar Smart UK: Want your local area to become Sugar Smart?

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Since joining Sustain in 2004, Ben has led or managed multiple campaigns and networks and more recently coordinated the organisation’s strategic development. This included working with Jamie Oliver’s team to get the government to adopt a sugary drinks tax, and setting up the award winning Children’s Health Fund which piloted the levy with restaurants. Ben helped to set up the Sustainable Food Places, Sugar Smart and Food Power networks, and has co-authored many reports, including the Case for Local Food with the RSPB.

Ben Reynolds
Deputy Chief Executive

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