More governments will act to restrict soda consumption, but additional progress needed, CSPI says

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Related tags: Coca-cola, Us

More than half a dozen countries hope to follow Mexico’s successful lead in reducing sugary soda consumption by severely restricting advertising and leveraging heavy excise taxes on the beverages by the end of the year, according to public health advocates. 

“Countries truly are awakening … to see that added sugar beverages really are not compensated by what we eat and are clearly the No. 1 cause of major increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease,”​ said Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who is working closely with governments globally to counter-balance increasing marketing efforts by soda makers to boost sales in developing countries.

He expects between six and 10 countries to implement by the end of 2016 “significant marketing bans”​ on soda and institute taxes of 20% or higher to discourage consumer purchases.

These changes would mirror those implemented recently in Mexico and Chile, which currently tax soda at 20% and 8% respectively.

While the extent of the efficacy of such “sin taxes”​ in the US is still unknown, research suggests Mexico’s 20% tax helped lower that nation’s consumption of soda 6% on average in 2014 compared to pre-tax trends.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest lauded these efforts and encourages even more countries to impose such excise taxes. It adds that the revenue from these programs should be used to fund public health campaigns that increase the availability of safe drinking water and to counter the messages currently conveyed by sugary soda makers.

CSPI President Michael Jacobson also encouraged the US and international governments to severely restrict advertising for soda, which he says research shows causes 183,000 deaths annually – including 24,000 in the US.

“Children need to be better protected. Governments should ban sales of sugary drinks in elementary and high schools and sugary drinks and junk foods should not be advertised on TV when younger children are watching, such as from 7 am to 9 pm,”​ he said.

He also argued, “On the Internet, games, videos and other websites that appeal to children should be removed.”

In addition, governments should add warnings to soda labels that caution about the increased risk of services, preventable illnesses and ban soda sales on government properties, schools, offices, universities and hospitals, he said.

“The ultimate solution to the soda problem would be for governments to limit the sugar content to about a quarter of the current levels – something CSPI has petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration to do”​ in the past, he said. He added manufacturers could achieve this by using high intensity sweeteners that are lower calorie and artificial sweeteners.

Soda manufacturers step up advertising in developing countries

CSPI’s passionate call to action comes with the Feb. 9 publication of a new report co-authored by Jacobson on soda makers’ marketing efforts.

The report, Carbonating the World​, documents how many major soda manufacturers are expanding their marketing efforts in developing countries to counter declining sales of the beverages in the US and Europe.

It notes that in the past 15 years, significant research has linked excessive consumption of sugary drinks with obesity, diabetes and heart disease, which the US government and advocates used to help lower the per capital consumption of sugary carbonated drinks in the US by 25%.

“On the other hand, soda sales in Latin America, Asia Pacific, the Middle East and African countries are all projected to increase between now and 2018,”​ CSPI said.

This projection aligns with increased marketing efforts by major soda manufacturers in those countries along with construction of bottling plants and distribution networks, the report claims.

For example, it claims, sales of carbonated drinks in China are projected to grow 30% to $16.2 billion by 2018 compared to 2013. During this time, the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and other players are investing heavily in the country, it claims.

Specifically, the report says from 2009 to 2011, the Coca-Cola Company invested $3 billion in China and will invest another $4 billion between 2015 and 2017. PepsiCo also invested $2.5 billion in a recent three year period, it says.

Similar patterns are outlined in India and African countries, according to the report.

In light of these discoveries, Jacobson says governments need to step up their efforts to reduce consumption in areas where it already is high and keep it low in places where it is starting to rise. 

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1 comment

ABA Comment

Posted by American Beverage Association, ABA Communications,

Neither misleading warning labels nor arbitrary taxes are the solution when it comes to changing health behaviors in a substantive way. It’s also important to point out that, in Mexico, calorie intake has only declined 4.9 calories per day – which wouldn’t even register on a bathroom scale. If the goal is truly meaningful health behavior change, comprehensive education and collaboration is the route we need to take. Our industry is working actively on this front, via our Balance Calories Initiative, among other efforts.

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