Mexicans love their soda. Construction workers go to their jobs in the early morning clutching giant two-litre or even three-litre bottles. Babies in strollers suck on bottles filled with orange soda. In the highlands of Chiapas, Coca-Cola is considered to have magical powers and is used in religious rites.
But Mexico also loves the soda industry. Vicente Fox, who in 2000 became the country’s first democratically elected president, had earlier been president of Coca-Cola Mexico and then head of the company’s Latin American operations. The symbolism was noteworthy: soda companies – particularly Coke, which controls 73% of the Mexican market (compared with only 42% in the US) – have amassed extraordinary influence over health policy in Mexico.
The drop in soda consumption represents the single
largest change in the American diet in the last decade.
Five years ago, Mayor Michael A. Nutter proposed a tax on soda in Philadelphia, and the industry rose up to beat it back.
Soda lobbyists made campaign contributions to local politicians and staged rallies, with help from allies like the Teamsters union and local bottling companies. To burnish its image, the industry donated $10 million to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
It worked: The soda tax proposal never got out of a City Council committee.
It’s a familiar story. Soda taxes have also flopped in New York State and San Francisco. So far, only superliberal Berkeley, Calif., has succeeded in adopting such a measure over industry objections.
The obvious lesson from Philadelphia is that the soda industry is winning the policy battles over the future of its product. But the bigger picture is that soda companies are losing the war.
Soda is one of the most popular beverages in the developed world, and many people are addicted to its sweet taste and fizzy texture. Not only does soda provide calories, these calories come in the form of refined sugar, namely mercury-laden high fructose corn syrup.
are supposed to lessen the health effects of regular soda consumption and are seen by many as a product that can be consumed in limitless quantities with very little worry. Research is showing, however, that this is not the case. Even diet sodas, typically sweetened with aspartame, also correlate with increased obesity trends in those who consume them on a regular basis.
Pepsi has recently announced a move that will replace aspartame with sucralose (Splenda), citing consumer demand regarding the supposed health dangers of aspartame.