A long read – power, persuasion and avoidable obesity

No joke this. Coca Cola and McDonald’s are two of the companies that had demanded that Sepp Blatter resign his post at Fifa. Purveyors of sugary drinks and processed fast food, these two who flog their sales especially to the economically vulnerable, especially in developing countries, and we know what these offerings can do to a body. Obscene profits from peddling an impending health disaster for individuals, communities and countries. No, that is not Fifa.

A tragic example of the costs of those sugary drinks and action taken to address the health crisis is Mexico, where an avoidable crisis was allowed to balloon out of control. As The Guardian reports, How one of the most obese countries on earth took on the soda giants

As will be recalled Coca Cola had spent some US$119M on healthcare ‘research’ that would show that, no worries, mere exercise would deal with that obesity thing. The Guardian gets to the point: democracy restored and a businessman becomes President, and..,

…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.

[snip]

The consequences of this became apparent in 2006, when the release of Mexico’s National Survey of Health and Nutrition revealed that diabetes – the country’s leading cause of death – had doubled since 2000.

Now then as far back as 2006 the data on diabetes and obesity were there for all, including policymakers, to see and act on. Also obvious was the abandonment of healthy nutrition.

And over the last two decades, the Mexican diet has been transformed. Consumption of beans dropped by half. In the last 14 years, consumption of fruit and vegetables dropped by 30% – largely replaced by processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages.

[bold added for emphasis]

(Pickett and Wilkinson, in their The Spirit Level, on inequality, would recount the impact of migration of a Latin family to the US, where the abandonment of the traditional diet in favour of junk food and sugary drink would be more than evident in the obesity of one child who had succumbed to the unhealthful imitation effect.

Also, not to be forgotten is the adverse impact of Nafta on Mexico, where traditional farming would be co-opted by mega farms, the rich variety of corn would be overwhelmed, and junk food and sugary drinks would make their commanding entrance on stage.

Then enters, as Deus ex Machina, and good news for a change, the benevolent gringo, as we also see, very tellingly, that opposition to any sugar or sugary drink tax would come from the very Minister of Health, and other high Mexican officials – seemingly oblivious to the cost to the individual, family and society of not just potential lost income but also that inevitable demand for medical (and dental) care. What results from that benefactor assistance?

In 2012, Bloomberg Philanthropies began a $10m, three-year programme in Mexico to reduce soda consumption. For the first time, the financial power of Mexico’s soda industry faced a serious challenge.

And the rest of the tale makes for compelling and instructive reading. This long read does offer an incentive to check and reverse the pernicious power of the sugary drink and fast food industries in society, their control over the media, the political establishment and the government – even the former NY Mayor Bloomberg had failed in his efforts to curtain such influence, and it would be the leading US black and latin activist groups that would vehemently oppose his proposed ‘soda tax’ intended to benefit the very victims these groups are supposed to represent.

This is one of those exciting challenges, where success can build from the grass roots, the community level, where success can flow from encouraging not just participation in sport and socialising but also developing a routine of, a behavioural change toward eating healthy (and savoury) meals and snacks of fruits and vegetables. Fezzick had famously asked, ‘Anybody want a peanut?’ Well, the answer should be, ‘Why not a handful and a mango to go with that? But hold those 12 spoons of sugar!’

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