Rhona S. Applebaum, Ph.D.

Vice President and Chief Science & Health Officer
The Coca-Cola Company


Rhona S. Applebaum, Ph.D. is the Vice President and Chief Science & Health Officer at The Coca-Cola Company responsible for the Company’s global health and well-being strategy.  She is also the Executive Director of the Company’s Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness. Dr. Applebaum joined Coca-Cola in 2004 and was elected as a Vice President of the Company in 2012. She serves on numerous committees, boards and advisory boards, including the Centers for Disease Control Foundation’s Corporate/CDC Roundtable, the EPODE International Network, Health Connect South, the Harvard Medical School Global Health Advisory Council, and several industry trade groups and science organizations.  In 2012 she was honored as one of the “100 Women Leaders in STEM,” and in 2013 was named to the Executive Leadership Honor Roll of OnBoard.  She was recently appointed by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal to his Advisory Council on Childhood Obesity and the Advisory Board to Georgia Shape. 

Q: What were your favorite subjects in elementary school, and why were they your favorite?

My favorite subjects in elementary school were math, reading and of course recess. As I think back-recess should jump ahead of math-it was my all time favorite. It was 'free range play' recess where we were able to get all our excess energy out, while learning how to socialize, compete, collaborate and above all have fun. Who knew back then, we were doing just what we need to get back to today. Letting kids run around, play games, sports and engage in regular physical activity is one of the best things we can do for them-not only for their physical health but for their mental wellbeing, behavior and academics. As I review all the data coming out on the benefits of kids being physically active, I personally believe that 'free-range play' helped me excel in math and reading, thus recess was a core, fundamental subject for me. As for why I liked math and reading-math touched my logical side and finding solutions to problems was both rewarding and fun. Reading, well reading allowed me to escape and 'experience' the world, and engage in so many different adventures.

Q: Which subjects do you need to study if you are interested in becoming a food scientist?

Obviously the basic sciences are very important and having a good grounding in the 'basic four' is, in my opinion, essential. That doesn't mean you need to be an expert in all (e.g. biology, chemistry, physics and math), but having a good understanding and appreciation of these four will serve you well as you begin your study of an applied science such as food science. And within the food science category there's a variety of other, more specific food science subjects, including food safety, food microbiology, food chemistry, food processing, food engineering, and food toxicology among others. Food science is also a good foundation for nutrition, consumer science and science communications. It's a great area to study and just think food and the science that underpins it never goes out of style-people and animals have to eat and drink-they can't exist or live if they don't.

Q: Do you have a fun or interesting story that happened while working at The Coca-Cola Company?

I have quite a few-and some I can't share J, but there's one that continues to occur, that just makes me so glad I chose to study food science. In my position I get to travel all over the world and regardless of what country I'm in, how late I arrive or how busy, overworked, or tired the customs agents are, whenever I go through the customs queue and they ask me, "Why are you here?" and I say, "Business" and they ask the inevitable follow-ups, "What Company?" "What Business?" "Who do you work for" or 'What do you do" and I say "I'm a food scientist with The Coca-Cola Company", I get that little smile, that evidence of happiness, a stamp in my passport and a wave to go through. It's magic.

Q: What is something that most people do not know about The Coca-Cola Company?

TCCC is committed to making a positive difference-in everything we do--with a focus on the environment, our associates, the marketplace, and each and every community and country in which we operate. Our actions are centered on a philosophy we call "Live Positively," and it is a philosophy that each and every employee at Coke embraces, starting with our very senior leaders.

Here are some of our most recent Live Positively facts, that I happen to be very proud of:

  • Championed policies on responsible sales and marketing including our School Beverage Guidelines, under which Coca-Cola voluntarily removed sparkling, full-calorie beverages from primary and secondary schools.
  • Support of active, healthy living programs like America is Your Park, Exercise is Medicine and Triple Play.
  • Offering 150 low- and no-calorie options to help people manage their calories. We believe in energy balance for a healthy weight!
  • Committed globally to place calorie (energy) information on the front of all of our packages by the end of 2011. We were the first beverage company to do this.
  • Coca-Cola has the largest fleet of hybrid electric heavy-duty vehicles in North America with more than 600 hybrids in major U.S. cities.
  • Coca-Cola supports more than 30 community watershed projects throughout the US. These projects will return an estimated 8.9 billion liters of water back to nature.
  • And finally, we introduced PlantBottle, a fully recyclable PET bottle made from a blend of petroleum-based materials and up to 30% plant-based materials to conserve valuable natural resources. We envision a world in which our packaging is seen as a valuable resource for future use.