Sugar-Sweetened Beverages on the World Stage

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is all over the food and beverage business. It educates the public, advocates for sane government policy, and pushes back against industry lobbying and propaganda, with the goal of getting healthier food into people. Their “About” page lists 10 bullet points of particular concern, one of which is “Reduce the consumption of soda and other sugary drinks.”

Earlier this year, the CSPI issued a report titled “Carbonating the World” that flat-out accused soda manufacturers of “borrowing a page from the tobacco industry playbook and investing heavily to boost consumption in low- and middle-income countries.” The industry must be in a state approaching panic, because in America, a quarter of its business has disappeared.

In the United States, per-capita consumption of carbonated sugar-sweetened drinks declined by 25 percent between 1998 and 2014, and sales are projected to decline further in North America and in Western Europe.

But in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, the people can’t get enough of the stuff. Coca-Cola has a 10-year investment plan aimed at Indonesia, the Philippines, China, India, Africa, Brazil, and Mexico, whose astonishing numbers are spelled out on a fascinating chart.

When an industry is willing to spend billions with a “B” it must be expecting to get, in return, trillions with a “T”. With that much money on the table:

[…] the companies are promoting diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, heart disease, and other soda-related diseases to countries already struggling to provide health care to their growing populations.

The CSPI is too polite to suggest this, but would it be crazy to imagine that soda manufacturers diversify their own investments into such areas as dental practices, exercise machines, personal oxygen delivery systems, coffins, and funeral homes?

As always, Coke goes after the young. People in their teens and twenties are specifically identified as the “core demographic,” which is in this case synonymous with “target,” “victim,” or “dupe.” Listen to this charming quotation from the marketing boss in Egypt:

We have young generations who can consume any kind of food and beverage, not caring about their health yet.

Coke and Pepsi have of course publicly pledged not to market to children, a promise that could most charitably be called hollow. Are those cartoon characters supposed to appeal to adults? How about the Barbie endorsement in Brazil, the advertising in South African schools, the music and social media tie-ins? All that hoopla is for grownups? Really?

The 51 million diabetics in India aren’t enough. It’s not sufficient that Mexico already ranks #1 in adult obesity; apparently Coke wants the country to aspire to some level of obese notoriety that is lower than the worst. Old-school colonization was brutal, as we know from history books — but now it’s done not with armies but with dollars and tankers full of high fructose corn syrup.

Oh, and guess what Coca-Cola has gone and done in Africa? Become the continent’s largest employer, an economic fact that should send chills down every spine.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Soda Companies Turning to Low- and Middle-Income Countries to Replace Sagging U.S. Soda Sales,”, 02/09/16
Photo credit: Coca-Cola South Africa via VisualHunt/CC BY-ND


  1. America’s leading beverage companies agree that children and adults should be mindful of the calories they consume from their beverages. We are committed to being part of real solutions to public health challenges with initiatives like Balance Calories, which aims to reduce beverage calories in the American diet by 20 percent by 2025 through innovation, reformulation and smaller package sizes. We also support clear and understandable nutrition facts about beverages and have voluntarily placed clear calorie labels on the front of the bottles and cans we produce. With that said, complex health issues do not stem from any one source of calories. The key is overall balance and education that teaches meaningful and holistic health behavior change.

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