ATLANTA: Coca-Cola has announced plans to put calorie counts on packaging and to distribute diet options in all its markets as it takes steps to neutralise arguments that sugary drinks are contributing to a global obesity epidemic.

"The key here is to ensure that in every market where we operate to have no- or low-calorie beverages of our main brands available," Muktar Kent, Coca-Cola's chairman and chief executive, said in a conference call.

"There is a place for all of our beverages in a healthy lifestyle," he added.

Around one third of Coke's sales volume in North America comes from low- and zero-calorie drinks, but this pattern is not replicated in other markets, where concerns about the effects of soft drinks are growing.

"They need to take this head-on given all the pressure they're facing, certainly from a regulatory perspective and without a doubt from the consumer perspective," Ali Dibadj, analyst at investment group Bernstein, told the Financial Times.

"If they get painted with this bad-guy brush, I'm not convinced they have the support of the local communities and the local governments that they really need for all the local distribution, manufacturing and buy-in to grow the business," he added.

The company also said it would sponsor physical activities in every market it operated in and renewed a pledge, first made in 2007, not to market drinks to children under the age of 12.

But it made clear it would continue to show families in its advertising and to use the long-running and popular images of Santa Claus and polar bears.

"It's not about what's shown in the ad, it's about the audience for the ad," said April Jordin, a Coke spokeswoman.

The company gave no details of the timetable or costs involved for these initiatives.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal, Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff