The Microbiome and Diabetes

bug-cupcakes

People who live together and/or are related have very similar microbiomes, much more so than the shared characteristics between them and other people. When all the bacteria shed from all the inhabitants of a place is mixed together, the profile is distinct as a fingerprint.

Jack Gilbert of the Argonne National Laboratory pointed out that, given an unlabeled sample of floor germs, the Home Microbiome Project team could unerringly identify which family’s home it came from. If this proves to be a valid and useful investigative technique, the forensics implications alone are startling.

No matter what area of physical science a researcher works in, when the microbiome is brought into the mix, all kinds of ideas take shape. Try this thought experiment: Maybe the people who insist that they can’t help being overweight are correct. Maybe the only flaw is their conviction that the inevitable obesity stems entirely from their genetics. Maybe the problem is the genetics of their microbiota, the trillions of interior beings that band together to constitute what is increasingly recognized as an organ.

The University of Luxembourg and several other distinguished institutions are interested in “precise descriptions of disease-related changes in the microbiome and insights into their functional effects in the body.” They joined forces to find a way to study the gut microbiome “in unprecedented detail.”

The effort led to a new understanding of type 1 diabetes, the kind that some people are born with and that no one can diet their way out of, because they just plain have no insulin. Type 2 is more about insulin resistance or deficiency.

The study leader, Prof. Paul Wilmes, said:

For the first time, we can now observe what happens simultaneously at the three levels of DNA, RNA and proteins within the microbial communities of the gut.

Surprises lurk around every corner. Although scrutiny of the microbiome is a recent development, there has been a relatively long-held belief that differences in the species populations of bacteria in different people might be the main issue.

The paper’s first author, Dr. Anna Heintz-Buschart, says that in the case of diabetes, the issue is much more about what the bacteria do, depending on which people they live in. As it turns out, sometimes the resident bacteria can switch various genes on or off, and sometimes they can’t.

A very abbreviated summary of Dr. Heintz-Buschart’s explanation of Type 1 diabetes: The body’s immune system mistakenly perceives insulin as an enemy, and responds by attacking its own pancreas. This throws the digestive juices out of whack. The gut bacteria try to maintain a comfortable equilibrium by calibrating the proteins and vitamins they crank out, for example, thiamine. An overabundance of thiamine makes the diabetes worse.

Colleague Dr. Carine de Beaufort, who found the appropriate families for the study, is interested in the potential for earlier identification of preventable disease. She says:

We expect these studies to help us identify biomarkers. These are molecules, such as proteins, that are produced or whose body levels change in the early stages of a diabetic condition. Such biomarkers would make diagnosis easier, so that we could already take preventive or therapeutic action at a very early stage.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Home is Where the Microbes Are,” anl.gov, 08/28/14
Source: “Sick or healthy? Bacterial metabolism tells us which — and why,” uni.lu, 10/11/16
Photo credit: Melissa Clark via Visualhunt/CC BY

Dr. Pretlow Speaks at ICBA 2017

icba-2017-logo

Earlier this week, Dr. Pretlow gave an oral presentation in Haifa, Israel, at the 4th International Conference on Behavioral Addictions. The event is described as appealing to “research scientists, clinicians, social workers, health service managers and others.”

The goal is to gather information and insights from such specialties as genetic and neurobiological research, psychological and psychiatric approaches, epidemiology, sociology, and anthropology. Conference co-chairs Zsolt Demetrovics and Aviv Weinstein also publish the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

ICBA 2017 subject matter covers an astonishing variety of human behaviors that display all the earmarks of addictions:

[…] especially disorders of the impulsive-compulsive spectrum, such as: gambling / internet / computer and video games / online gaming / pyromania / kleptomania / intermittent explosive disorder /trichotillomania / onychophagia / skin picking / compulsive buying / sexual behavior / compulsive hoarding / exercise dependence / obsessive-compulsive disorder / eating disorders / body dysmorphic disorder / muscle dysmorphic disorder / hypochondriasis / other excessive behaviors or non-substance addiction disorders / behavioral addictions in children/adolescents…

That is quite a list. Eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder are of particular interest to our readers.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation was titled “Treatment of Obesity Using Behavioral Addiction Methods: a Pilot Study.” The background and foundation of these ideas can also be found in the pages of Childhood Obesity News. He begins by reaffirming a fact that has been unignorable for some time: New treatment strategies for obesity are urgently needed.

Uncontrollable overeating, in the forms of “comfort eating” and “nervous eating” bear a great resemblance to behavioral addictions. It makes sense that behavior addiction treatment methods can be useful in treating these problems.

Dr. Pretlow spoke about the four-month intervention implemented as the smartphone app known as W8Loss2GoChildhood Obesity News has outlined the steps before: withdrawal from specific problem foods, withdrawal from snacking, and withdrawal from excessive meal portions at home.

One feature of this pilot study was the extensive solicitation of feedback. Questionnaires examining struggles and reasons for overeating were administered to parents and children at group meetings and in weekly, recorded phone interviews at baseline, program completion, and at the conclusion of the extension study.

The gathering of so much information proves to be very useful in understanding the reasons for overeating. The main reason given for overeating is rather shocking in a way, because boredom, in a world oversupplied with stimuli of all kinds, seems like the last problem anyone would encounter. In another way, it is encouraging, because techniques of distraction have a chance to prevail against boredom.

Pleasure seeking was the second most prevalent reason, which again is encouraging, because patients can have their horizons broadened and their possibilities multiplied, concerning alternate ways to find pleasure in life. Other causes of overeating include stress, sadness, and social pressures.

In many people’s minds, the conflict around eating versus not eating a certain food seems to be easily resolvable by deciding to go ahead and eat it. Fortunately, people can be re-educated to perceive the conflict as easily resolvable by deciding not to eat, for any but legitimate reasons.

The program was completed by 24 participants who lost an average 4.9 kg. Those who took part in the optional extension study lost on average an additional 2.6 kg. As expected, participants found it progressively easier to resist overeating. Dr. Pretlow and his team now see more clearly than ever that, for young people drifting into obesity, behavioral addiction treatments have great utility.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “4th International Conference on Behavioral Addictions,” icba.mat.org, February 2017
Image by Dr. Pretlow

Freezing Fat and the Flaky Fringe

statue-belly-closeup

Fat freezing is a rather weird FDA-approved treatment that has been around for a while, mainly under the name of CoolSculpting. What does their web page say?

The first paragraph seems out of touch with both logic and the language. It says, “Refreshments, such as tea, coffee, and water, are offered complimentary as patients relax and complete their treatments.” Okay, we get it, but the English is a bit wonky. “Our beautiful facility leaves no detail to the imagination” is totally meaningless. Also, the suite is “fully equipped with WiFi.” But is there such a thing as partial WiFi? Isn’t it either available, or not?

We are told that in the Cool Lounge, patients enjoy “a one of a kind atmosphere.” Uniqueness was also experienced by the Titanic lifeboat passengers. “One of a kind” is not an endorsement that inspires confidence. The point is, when a company plays fast and loose with language and logic, what does that imply about the service they bring to the marketplace? How does this modality work, anyway?

The term “cryolipolyisis” basically means Breaking up Fat via Cold:

Cryo=Cold
Lipo=Fat
Lysis= Break up.

When the patient is comfortably resting on the table, a protective gel pad is placed over the treatment area. A device is “pressed against the skin and tissue is drawn between two cooling plates.” By means of “gentle vacuum pressure and deep cooling,” it freezes the fat. More than one “specifically designed applicator” may be in use at any given time. For instance, both flabby areas known as love handles might be treated at once.

Another video, “Is CoolSculpting Right for You?” shows the process through animation, while the narration explains how the fat layer is significantly reduced because the treatment “targets and cools fat cells to temperatures that trigger their natural death…”

In one place, the literature says the freezing cycle is one hour, but in another place mentions it might be up to three hours. This is hard to reconcile with the company’s print media ad encouraging readers to “lose stubborn fat without downtime.” The language of the magazine ad also subliminally suggests that each problem area needs only one treatment to be effective.

When done, the applicators are removed and the client is left with what looks like a stick of butter just beneath the skin. The clinic staff member massages the lump and “may also follow the massage with with additional technologies to further enhance your results.” The results are slow in coming. As one of the videos explains:

Over the next few weeks and months, the fat cells shrink and begin to die as the patient’s own body metabolizes them and naturally eliminates them.

Weeks and months? Again, this does not match with the magazine ad’s claim of “fast results.” It also doesn’t mention the side effects reported by clients in user forums. Some say the pain is “horrific” and advise planning to take several days off from work.

Bruising might be extensive, and there might be an itchy rash on any or all body parts, from the immunological response known as histamine release. If the person has already lost some weight and has loose skin, the procedure does not tighten the skin and indeed makes it looser.

For the tech website Gizmodo, Kate Knibbs describes in detail how the dead fat cells are attacked by white blood cells and converted into triglycerides which the liver gets rid of. She then enumerates the caveats:

Since the amount of fat that dies is so small, it’s not likely to result in a change on the scale, and patients can only expect 20-25% “permanent reduction in fat” for the small frozen area… Patients lose, on average, around 40 cubic centimeters of fat, according to a study conducted at the Massachusetts General Hospital. One pound is around 450 cc’s, so a 40 cc loss is miniscule.

The fees charged for fat-freezing treatments can easily run into the tens of thousands, although one company offers a home fat-freezing kit for only $300.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Procedure: How Does CoolSculpting Work,” FreezeFat.net, undated
Source: “Video Gallery,” FreezeFat.net, undated
Source: “You Can Freeze Your Fat and Poop It Out,” Gizmodo.com, 6/26/15
Photo credit: Christina Xu (xuhulk) via Visualhunt/CC BY

Another Look at Contagious Obesity

intestines-blue-illustration

Childhood Obesity News previously quoted Dr. Franklin Tsai, who wrote:

Metagenomic studies demonstrated that certain mixes of gut microbiota may protect or predispose the host to obesity. Furthermore, microbiota transplantation studies in germ-free murine models showed that the efficient energy extraction traits of obese-type gut flora are transmissible.

Dr. Tsai and many other researchers paved the way for one of the craziest medical advances ever, the transplantation of fecal matter from one host to another.

It has always been unavoidably obvious that family members tend to resemble one other. This has been attributed to genetics (or in the old days, “blood”) and to socialization within the nuclear family, where conformity to norms is of prime importance.

At the very least, genetically related humans have microbiomes “more similar than those of people who are not related.” Also, whether they cohabitate or not, relatives “tend to share more of their gut (fecal) microbes than unrelated individuals.”

A multi-author paper titled “Cohabiting family members share microbiota with one another and with their dogs” goes on to state:

Moreover, the communities of microorganisms found in the intestines of non-related adults living in the same household are more similar than those of unrelated adults living in different households.

In other words, whatever the gut flora decide to do, it will affect not only the host but other people too, regardless of their shared or separate household status or familial relationship. The imposing Argonne National Laboratory carried out this study:

The Home Microbiome Project followed seven families, which included eighteen people, three dogs and one cat, over the course of six weeks. The participants in the study swabbed their hands, feet and noses daily to collect a sample of the microbial populations living in and on them. They also sampled surfaces in the house, including doorknobs, light switches, floors and countertops.

The study showed that married couples and their young children tend to share most of their invisible interior communities. In a household where three unrelated adults lived, the romantically involved couple shared a lot more microbial species with each other than with the third inhabitant.

People who are related and/or live together share large swaths of their microbial populations. This resonates with the mystical belief that when married, two people become one. At the same time, the influence of the microbiome saps the potency of the ancient superstitions created around “blood” as the fundamental tie between people. It begins to look as if the most basic signifier of kinship might be our shared bugs.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Cohabiting family members share microbiota with one another and with their dogs,” NIH.gov, 04/16/13
Source: “Home is Where the Microbes Are,” ANL.gov, 08/28/14
Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images via Visualhunt/No known copyright restrictions

Where Is the Flaky Fringe?

street-performer-costume

Referring to a previous post, we recall the work of science writer David Berreby, who reminds us that the energy balance model, which limits the possible influences on obesity to two (calories consumed and exercise performed) is probably not the whole story. If nothing else, the fact that it has been glommed onto and relentlessly promoted by the soda industry might be a clue to the theory’s inadequacy.

Apparently, the body’s fat metabolism is more like the weather on earth, subject to a number of influences that may or may not come into play in any given scenario. The concept of synergy has to be taken into consideration. Circumstances and conditions combine to produce results that are unexpected and indeed unpredictable. Ideas that once inhabited orthodoxy’s “fringe” have a way of slipping into the mainstream.

A formulation attributed to philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, but actually expressed in different words by many thinkers, goes like this:

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

A lot of different factors have been looked at suspiciously. How much light is in the room during the hours of sleep? Is childhood obesity caused by a virus? Industrial chemicals? Absent fathers?

In Belgium, a theory arose that maybe kids are fat because they don’t get enough beer. What if the beer proponents turn out to be correct? Ten years from now they might be basking in Nobel limelight. (Just kidding — but that is the point. Today’s absurd joke too often becomes tomorrow’s reality.)

The shocking future

When researchers first started to talk about the trillions of creatures that live in the human digestive system, skepticism was rampant. Now, the health community is getting used to the idea that the microbiota might control quite a lot of what goes on in there, so much so that fecal transplantation is an actual thing. The technique has incontestably saved human lives from the particularly menacing C difficile.

For Guardian Liberty Voice, Julie Mahfood assembled a concise primer:

C. difficile is a naturally occurring bacteria amidst the millions in the human intestine. When a person has what is known as broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment, usually before a surgery and while in hospital, much of the body’s microbiota (a new term for intestinal flora) is killed off. The antibiotics are given as a precautionary measure to prevent post-op infection, but ironically, without the usual host of microbiota to keep things in check, C. diff tends to proliferate. Once symptoms begin (diarrhea), it is very hard to combat this nasty bacteria.

This was two years ago, and even then, it was possible to say that “many more conditions than we have previously realized may be affected by our gut flora” — including obesity.

The writer noted the conviction of researchers that it is only a matter of time before fecal transplants are used to cure many conditions, including childhood obesity. Spoiler alert — anecdotal evidence coming up. Reader Michal K. Hurst added a comment to Mahfood’s article, describing his complete recovery from ulcerative colitis, thanks to fecal transplantation:

Interestingly enough my body weight is now about 20 lbs less than it was before the fecal transplants — it matches the body weight of my donor who is also the same height.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Can Childhood Obesity Be Cured By Fecal Transplants?,” Guardianlv.com, 02/26/14
Photo credit: tabsybelle via Visualhunt/CC BY

Mexican Sugar Tax Activists Walk on the Wild Side

crosses-and-coke-billboard

The highest per capita consumption of Coca-Cola occurs in Mexico, which holds less than 2% of the world’s population but accounts for 12% of Coke’s worldwide sales. In January of 2013, the 10% soda tax started, and during the first year, purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages declined by 6%. Alejandro Calvillo, head of the consumer organization El Poder, who was largely responsible for getting the tax passed, aspires to see it raised closer to 20%, but this might turn out to be futile overreach.

At the same time, an 8% tax on junk food went into effect, and a followup study indicated that, in urban areas, the purchases of junk food decreased by around 5%. No data was available for rural parts of the country.

Melissa Healy reported for the LA Times that if the trend of reduced consumption continues, over a 10-year period the savings on diabetes treatment alone could amount to more than $900 million. Based on the first two years, researchers project that “over 10 years, the 10% excise tax could prevent 189,300 new cases of Type 2 diabetes, 20,400 strokes and heart attacks, and 18,900 deaths among adults 35 to 94 years old.”

The Mexican experience certainly seems worth some positive attention, especially if it can be achieved through imbibing only 6% less soda. But even that small diminishment of their profits is apparently too much for Coke to tolerate.

Investigative reporter Beverly Bell wrote:

To control the soft drinks market in Mexico, Coca-Cola has shown repeatedly it will break the law. The Angel Alvarado Aguero case, currently in the Mexican courts, describes how this former marketing executive of Coca-Cola was unjustifiably dismissed when he refused to carry out illegal monopolistic marketing practices as directed by the Company.

Since 2000, Coca-Cola has negotiated 27 water concessions from the Mexican government. Nineteen of the concessions are for the extraction of water from aquifers and from 15 different rivers, some of which belong to indigenous peoples. Eight concessions are for the right of Coke to dump its industrial waste into public waters.

Bear in mind that this is a country where more than 12 million people have no access to potable water. When a rival beverage called Big Cola started to capture some market share, Coke used a combination of carrot and stick — of bribery and intimidation — in what was characterized as a viciously coercive campaign to persuade the owners of small shops not to stock their rival’s product.

The company is also suspected of cheating workers out of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of profit sharing and other benefits. Also, the soda manufacturers owe the Mexican government millions in taxes.

Throughout the world, most workers are exploited, so in that respect Coke’s behavior in South America is not unusual. In Colombia, where Coke has a private mercenary army, the corporation is suspected of kicking it up a notch, disposing of at least 10 troublesome labor organizers. In Mexico, hired assassins are less obvious and the attack is more sophisticated, carried out by cyber weapons.

What do a research scientist, a nonprofit foundation director, and the coordinator of a 40-group anti-obesity coalition have in common? They, and several others in similar positions, both civilians and government employees, were harassed by phone and internet in ways designed to make them open a link that would infect their devices.

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab figured it all out and Nicole Perlroth wrote it up for The New York Times:

The timing of the hacking coincided with a planned effort by advocacy organizations and health researchers — including Dr. Barquera, Mr. Calvillo and Mr. Encarnacion — to coordinate a mass media campaign to build support for doubling the soda tax, an effort that stalled in Mexico’s Congress in November. The three men also opposed a failed effort by Mexican legislators and soda lobbyists in 2015 to cut the tax in half.

Their computers and phones were taken over by Pegasus, malware that can track and trace every voice call, text message, and email sent or received. Unbeknownst to the owner, the spyware can turn on the device’s camera and mic and send the information to whoever wants it.

These cyber arms are made by the mysterious NSO Group, and supposedly are only sold to governments, to surveil political dissidents. But it appears that the soda industry has gotten hold of them.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Two Years In, Mexico’s Soda Tax Is Still Working,” TakePart.com, 07/07/16
Source: “Mexico’s soda tax will save 18900 lives and more than $983 million over 10 years, study says,” LATimes.com, 11/03/16
Source: “Breaking The Law: Business As Usual for Coca-Cola,” Killercoke.org, undated
Source: “Spyware’s Odd Targets: Backers of Mexico’s Soda Tax,” NYTimes.com, 02/11/17
Wall of Crosses in Nogales
Photo credit: Jonathan McIntosh via Visualhunt/CC BY

Mexico As Soda Tax Lighthouse

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An expert speculated that Mexico’s pioneering soda tax program could have a lighthouse effect, “drawing attention to soda’s role in chronic health problems.” This seems a bit off the mark, since awareness has been pretty well raised.

What we lack is empirical solidity. Whenever and wherever the idea of taxing sugar-sweetened beverages to prevent obesity is discussed people understandably react by asking for studies. Problem is, there aren’t many, because it has rarely been tried. Certainly there are no long-term studies, because the innovators started only a few years ago. We need more real-life evidence to examine. As it accumulates, someone needs to find more effective ways to sort, track, and document the multiple factors in multi-factorial problems.

The lighthouse is an archaic concept, because probably nine out of 10 people don’t know what came before electronic navigation systems. Even so, the meaning is ambiguous, because the lighthouse signaled both a safe destination and a warning of danger.

Another rarely-used term that might fit is bellwether, the lead sheep in a flock, the one that the others would follow, if only the shepherd could get it pointed in the right direction. In service of the obesity prevention cause, Mexico would have seemed an unlikely candidate for the role of bellwether, and yet here we are.

How is it working out?

Melissa Healy, writing for the LA Times, points out that in one major way, Mexico and the USA are dissimilar. In Mexico, the soda tax is a rule that comes from the top and includes everybody. In the USA, the federal government is unlikely to enact a national soda tax. The best we can do is take it state by state or city by city. The smaller the radius in which the tax is enforced, the more likely the citizens are to vote with their wheels and do their shopping in a nearby jurisdiction.

This leads to controversial results, like searches to ensure that people don’t bring contraband from no-tax areas into tax areas, and fines or imprisonment for violating the rules. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

In a couple of important ways, Mexico’s soda tax, which went into effect January of 2014, was a failure. Proponents wanted the sales tax on water to be zero, because the difference between taxed soda and taxed water would be too small to influence the purchaser’s decision. For Wired, Lizzie Wade wrote:

One popular proposal would have earmarked the earnings from the soda tax to pay for purified water fountains in schools all over Mexico. But that agreement was never finalized, and it’s hard to know where the soda tax revenues are actually going.

That concern is shared by Childhood Obesity News, along with others that will be explored.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Mexico’s Soda Tax Is Working. The US Should Learn From It,” Wired.com, 07/13/15
Source: “Mexico’s soda tax will save 18900 lives and more than $983 million over 10
years, study says,” LATimes.com, 11/03/16
Photo via Visualhunt

How Mexico Got Its Soda Tax

hecho-en-mexico-coca-cola

When you’re trying to get a public health law passed and the country’s two major TV networks decline to air your ads, a real uphill battle takes place. This was the situation in Mexico, where a former president had previously been the head of Coke’s Latin American business, and many other politicians were financially and philosophically tied to the soda manufacturer.

On the side of the angels was El Poder del Consumidor (“Consumer Power”) an organization dedicated to protecting the consumers. El Poder banded together with a couple of dozen other national groups to form the Nutritional Health Alliance (NHA), which stood for various progressive causes on behalf of human rights, small farmers, children, ancestral foods, and free water in the public schools. NHA also asked the authorities not to tax bottles of water smaller than 10 liters, so people would be motivated to buy water instead of sweetened fizzy drinks.

The coalition registered strong objections to one particular Coke advertisement. El Poder’s director, Alejandro Calvillo, argues that the drinking of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) is an “aspirational act” that essentially enables people to brainwash themselves into “the desire to belong to a world from which they are excluded.” Some people don’t see a problem with that. The same could be said about great books, by which generations of people have been inspired to aspire.

The difference is that books don’t cause type 2 diabetes or bring about the demise of all the teeth in a child’s mouth. Books don’t disturb the microbiome, or inject weird chemicals into the brain, or cause a person to weigh 300 pounds.

Cavillo explains his condemnation of soda:

Those instances of marketing “happiness”, of belonging to that advertised world, are accompanied by the activation of the pleasure centers in the brain by the high quantities of sugar.

In January of 2014, the 10% soda and junk food tax hit Mexico. During the first year, purchases of SSBs went down 6%, good news to a government concerned about childhood obesity. This was not good news for the corporations, which of course want to make as much money as possible, although they have bounced back by selling their potions in smaller containers and charging more per ounce.

It was statistically noticeable, once the tax took effect, that lower-income households bought less soda, which of course was the intended result. The connections between poverty, obesity and its co-morbidities are familiar territory. No government wants to deal with them, but somebody has to do something, and a sugar tax brings at least partial satisfaction to part of the constituency.

On the other hand, there are people who characterize the tax as punishment visited on the poor. They point out the cruelty of hiking the price of one of life’s few affordable luxuries. For some, the freedom to swig cheap SSBs is a deeply-held ideological tenet. Any attempt to impact the habit by, for instance, taxing it, is resisted as a fascistic encroachment on a seller’s right to sell and a buyer’s right to buy.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Taking on Big Food: How low-income countries are targeted for distribution of junk food,” Dailymaverick.co.za, 09/13/16
Source: “Sales of sugary soft drinks drop by 6% during the first year of tax introduction,”
UKHhealthForum.org, 06/22/15
Photo credit: Mike Mozart (JeepersMedia) via Visualhunt/CC BY

More Tales of Mexicoke

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We saw how an advertisement depicting a town in Oaxaca caused hostility toward the Coca-Cola Company, and was withdrawn with apologies. But sensitive feelings about language, class and race are on the lighter end of the conflict spectrum. For example, KillerCoke.org reports that, in some areas, the Coca-Cola Company buys up all the water, so there is basically nothing to imbibe except their products.

Every known system of health advocacy recognizes the importance of water. Hydration is the basis of every bodily process. To cynically and greedily create a situation where people have no clean water is unforgivable.

In large parts of the country, the water is so compromised that to reach the threshold of potability it needs treatment by ultraviolet light, sediment filters, and activated carbon. If you live in a bad-water place, you basically have two choices: to buy sugar-sweetened drinks from Coke, or buy bottled water from Coke. Spurred by the increase in child obesity, the government ruled that schools must provide good water.

When Mexico’s soda tax went into effect at the beginning of 2014, the revenues would allegedly pay for free drinking water in all the public schools. The soda corporation, having helped to cause a massive public health problem, offered a little fix. Sara Jerome wrote:

The Mexican charity arm of Coca-Cola announced a plan to donate drinking fountains that purify tap water to 741 public schools… Fundacion Coca-Cola will spend $2 million, and has already installed 42 drinking fountains.

A year later Seldon Technologies, an American company based in Vermont, announced that it would be making 500,000 filtration systems to be shipped south and fitted into drinking fountains made by the Mexican company, Bebederos. It was to be a $20 million, five-year contract, juicy enough to stimulate new hires in addition to the people already employed by Seldon. But only three months after that the filter manufacturer suddenly collapsed, putting 32 Vermonters out of work.

An interesting detail is that the company had actually been bought, two years before this contract was made, by a South African telecommunications company “that has ambitions to expand into the water purification market,” wrote journalist John Lippman. Here is where things get weird:

Seldon has also been a participant in the federal government’s EB-5 visa program that grants permanent residency to investors whose investments lead to enterprises that create at least 10 jobs. In 2013, Brent Raymond, then director of the Vermont Regional Center which administers the EB-5 program in the state, told the Burlington Free Press that Seldon was approved for $20 million in EB-5 financing for research, development and expansion.

Even in the best-case scenario some of the Mexican schools would not have gotten their water fountains for five years. Now, it looks more like never. Annoyingly, the title of the press release that trumpeted the original deal read, “Clean Drinking Water Now Available to Millions of Mexican Children,” which was an outright lie. The whole story is vague and sketchy enough to cause speculation over what kind of quasi-legitimate multinational hanky-panky might have been going on — with Mexican kids as the ultimate losers.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Breaking News,” KillerCoke.org, current
Source: “Coca-Cola Installing Clean Water Tech In Mexican Schools,” WaterOnline.com, 07/22/14
Source: “Sales of sugary soft drinks drop by 6% during the first year of tax introduction,”
UKHealthForum.org, 06/22/15
Source: “Clean Drinking Water Now Available to Millions of Mexican Children,” PRWeb.com, 07/01/15
Photo credit: Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Tales of Mexicoke

comedor-luchita

It has been enlightening to follow along with the anti-sugar struggles in Great Britain. Today, Childhood Obesity News reluctantly tears its eyes away from that embattled land to focus on Mexico. Like everywhere else, the atmosphere is saturated with advertising, and the usual nonsense that corporations say to the press, to be passed on for mass consumption.

There was trouble over an ad, a couple years back. For New York Daily News, Keri Blakinger described the action as “a gaggle of white hipsters bringing Coke to an indigenous village in Mexico.”

This is not the raucous border town, or manicured resort, or smog-choked metropolis that North Americans might envision. It is the Mexico of small settlements in difficult terrain, containing almost 13 million people who speak 62 different languages. Also, 80% of them are below the official poverty line.

The video clip opens with pastoral scenes and an announcement that most of Mexico’s indigenous people feel left out of their society because they don’t speak Spanish. Cut to the hipsters’ home ground, a workshop where there seems to be an inappropriate amount of horseplay among the power tools. The youngsters make wooden parts whose purpose is unknown.

Their arrival in the Oaxacan village seems to aim for the Woodstock or “We Are the World” vibe. They pass out icy bottles of Coke to everyone, and construct a giant fake Christmas tree in the town square. Logistically, things don’t add up. Once built, the monumental tree seems to contain much more material than the amount they could have possibly brought along in a small caravan of pickup trucks.

Then, the big structure is shown covered with lights made from Coke bottle lids. Are we to believe that all the bottle caps are from Cokes consumed right there on the scene? Because it would have been a boxcar full of cartons and cartons of soda. Or did the merry crew warn the inhabitants ahead to time to save all their bottle caps?

How were all the top layers of the fake tree decorated? Did the villagers build a massive scaffold, or did there just happen to be a truck with a “cherry picker” attachment? How was there enough space in a car for the giant reel of wire they must have brought along? And where does all the electricity come from?

The Alliance for Food Health brought to the government the first complaint, but it wasn’t for a lack of verisimilitude. The ad has been called racist, discriminatory, condescending, offensive in tone, an attempt to force consumer culture down the throats of indigenous people, and an example of “hipster colonialism.”

Its use of the tagline #AbreTuCorazon, or “Open Your Heart,” rubbed people the wrong way for some reason, and so did the information that four-fifths of non-Spanish speakers feel excluded, which gave no source reference. Apparently, the Cokesters had really perceived themselves as sociologically responsible and culturally sensitive, and others who saw no harm in the ad came to their defense, but the turkey didn’t fly. The corporation apologized and the ad was discontinued.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Coke’s Crimes in Mexico,” KillerCoke.org, undated
Source: “Coca-Cola pulls Mexican ad after accusations of racism,” NYDailyNews.com, 12/07/15
Photo credit: 16:9clue via Visualhunt/CC BY

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