Soda producers may have a problem in Latin America.
A public interest group has launched a public health campaign this summer aimed at curbing Mexico's consumption of sugary sodas, the Wall Street Journal reports. The news comes as Mexico struggles with an obesity problem that by one U.N. agency’s measure has surpassed that of the United States.
The campaign run by El Poder del Consumidor -- The Consumer’s Power -- features graphic posters and billboards similar to the ones that have become familiar sights to New Yorkers during the Bloomberg era, with his public battles against sugary drinks and smoking. One ad features a bottle of soda alongside 12 tablespoons of sugar. Another set of images features diabetic amputees, questioning whether soda played a role in their health tragedies, according to the Journal.
The soda industry in Mexico was put on the defensive last month after a report by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization found that the country’s obesity rate had surpassed that of the United States.
Many in the scientific community attribute the growth of the Mexican waistline to soda. Barry Popkin, an obesity expert at the University of North Carolina, told Al Jazeera in April: “Marketing of sugary beverages is the most important factor that we have found [in Mexico]… Calories from beverages doubled between 1999 and 2006.”
Obesity specialist Kelly Brownell at Duke University agreed, telling Reuters: “The strongest scientific link between any category of food and obesity is with sugared beverages… If you’re going to address obesity, you need to begin somewhere, and why not begin where the science is strongest?”
Science notwithstanding, going up against soda producers in Mexico won’t be easy. Mexicans drink more than 12 ounces of soda per day on average, according to Reuters, making it one of the heavy soda consuming countries in the world.
Coca-Cola defended the health value of soda, with a spokesperson from the Mexico office telling the Wall Street Journal that all the company’s products are “healthy and can be integrated into a correct diet, combined with an active lifestyle.”
Mexico isn’t the only country south of the Rio Grande considering restrictions on sugary drinks. Colombian Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria said this month that the agency is studying ways to reduce soda drinking due to obesity concerns, Colombian daily El Espectador reports.
Half of Colombians between the ages 18 and 64 are overweight, according to the country’s National Institute of Health.