Coca-Cola's use of Māori words a 'real tragedy' - health expert

Māori health professionals are outraged at Coca-Cola for targeting Māori in this year's Share a Coke campaign.

It says new packaging using te reo Māori targets vulnerable people.

Some labels say "share a Coke with whanau" - family - and and "kuia" - a respected older woman.

Selah Hart, CEO of Hapai Te Hauora Māori Public Health, says Coca-Cola cannot ignore that people are suffering from diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

"We already see a high allotment of our communities being the sufferers of the harms from these sugary drink products. We see it through our oral health statistics."

Māori are statistically more likely to have teeth removed due to tooth decay abscess, infection and gum disease. Te Ao Mārama (The Māori Dental Association) and the New Zealand Dental Association also criticised Coca-Cola, calling the campaign "completely irresponsible". 

Hart says use of the word 'kuia' in particular is a slap in the face.

"A kuia is a highly respected person in our culture, and for them to be using utilising it as a marketing strategy is really disappointing to see."

Coca-Cola says it too is concerned about the high obesity rates, and it worked hard to represent the diversity in Aotearoa.

"For this year's Share a Coke campaign... we worked hard to ensure we represented many popular names as well as reflected the diversity of cultures in Aotearoa today," a spokesperson told Newshub.

"We felt it wouldn't be right to dismiss anyone's name due to ethnicity."

Hart says the campaign shows "violent acts of colonisation continue unopposed", and lower socioeconomic communities - such as Māori - are highly targeted.

"The use of our language to potentially promote or to grab that cohort of society, to actually be invited to continue to purchase these addictive products is a real tragedy."

Coca-Cola says it engaged with "cultural experts... including tangata whenua" before deciding what words to include. Names were taken from "official data from the Department of Internal Affairs".

"Like all New Zealanders, we are concerned about the high obesity rates in this country," the spokesperson said, adding that the campaign included its sugar-free range.

"We are dedicated to helping Kiwis consume less sugar and make better choices for their lifestyle through the reformulation of recipes and producing new low- and no-sugar drinks, smaller packs sizes and encouraging more people to choose our low and no-sugar options."

New Zealand is one of the most obese countries in the world. Experts estimate within the next few decades, the average New Zealander will be obese.