Coca-Cola's new chairman and chief executive has launched a counter-attack against critics of the company. In his first major speech since taking the position, Neville Isdell told a summit of food companies, retailers and other food-industry leaders that industry critics will not solve the obesity crisis with "bad science, funny solutions or even scapegoating certain foods which are good or bad."

Isdell's comments were very much in line with Coke's and other food companies' standard position that a lack of exercise and not a dramatic increase in caloric intake is the chief contributor to the obesity epidemic.

"Obesity is a very real problem for consumers, for us, for society at large," he said. "But it is a function of energy balance, the number of calories consumed versus the number expended."

Isdell said that 40% of Americans engage in "absolutely no physical activity at all," citing a study showing that student participation in physical education has declined by 13% in the US in the last 20 years. "In Ireland, where I come from, half the men just sit and do nothing," he said.

Isdell also said that Coke must respond to consumer tastes whether those are healthy or not. "We can't answer to what's out there philosophically," he said. "We have to respond to what consumers want."

While he acknowledged that Coke and other food and drink suppliers have been slow to respond to the growing interest in healthier eating habits, Isdell noted that manufacturers too often take a defensive position when under attack.