Coke in South Africa

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News compared Coca-Cola’s attempt to dominate world economy with classic colonialism. In the old days, the conquering nation would erect statues of the king of the Netherlands or England, or whatever acquisitive European country had decided to swoop in and take over some region of the world.

The good news is, the hideous structure pictured here occupied the Capetown waterfront for only three years before it was dismantled (apparently, according to the original plan, rather than because of any public outcry.) The bad news is, Coke commissioned the erection of several similar abominations throughout South Africa.

The “fun facts” about the Crate Man include its height (50 or 60 feet, depending on which source you go by), its weight (more than 25 tons), and the number of crates in it (2,600 or maybe 4,200, again, depending on which source is consulted.) It was constructed around an armature of metal scaffolding. The designer’s name was Porky Hefer, quite appropriate considering that Coke is so closely associated with obesity.

The really fun part is that this creation supposedly served the public by educating people about the importance of recycling. Critics did not fail to point out the irony, which is that Coca Cola is one of the earth’s largest producers of plastic waste ever to encumber the planet.

In 1992, each South African consumed an average 130 items of Coca-Cola product per year. By 2010, that average was up to 254 Coke products per person, per year, and that seems to be the latest figure available. Surprisingly, about 35 other countries have more childhood obesity. There is some talk of a soda tax, but part of the problem seems to be a lack of accessible clean water, and when that is the case, the poor are at even more of a disadvantage.

South Africa is what the economists call an “emerging market,” meaning that the people can be persuaded to buy even more stuff in the future. Emerging markets are the exact kind in which Coca-Cola loves to invest, and the corporation is in the middle of a 10-year plan calling for $17 billion worth of investment in the African continent.

Some recognize this as a flawed solution to the country’s financial needs. But for South Africa and many other struggling national economies, exigency often makes the decisions. People need jobs, so governments make special concessions, and liberally extend privileges to businesses that wave handfuls of cash at them.

In the South African publication Daily Maverick, a brand new article mentions what the local academics refer to as the “nutrition transition,” described as…

[…] a shift from traditional diets based largely on staple grains or starchy roots, legumes, vegetables and fruits but minimal animal foods, towards more energy-dense, processed foods, more foods of animal origin and more added sugar, salt and fat.

Of course, journalist Kerry Cullinan adds:

Food company spin doctors would have us believe that the worldwide explosion of obesity is a product of human laziness. While a lack of exercise plays a role, the key driver of obesity is the mass consumption of processed food and sugary drinks.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Shelf Life: No more crate man,”, 06/27/13
Source: “Taking on Big Food: How low-income countries are targeted for distribution of junk food,”, 09/13/16
Photo credit: South African Tourism via Visualhunt/CC BY

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