Center for Communications, Health and the Environment
Summer 2008 Vol. 3, Issue 2

CECHE Collaborates to Dump Soda

Once a distinctly American problem, the prevalence of overweight and obesity is increasingly becoming a global worry, with an upswing in obesity and overweight leading to increases in diet-related diseases and mortality in less developed countries.

Surges in soft drink consumption contribute to this problem. In fact, less developed countries now represent the largest growth markets for soft drink producers, as consumption has leveled off, or slightly declined, in the United States and parts of Europe. Consumers in countries such as Mexico, Egypt and China are currently being targeted by the soft drink industry with aggressive marketing campaigns, sometimes aimed at children and youth.

To raise awareness of the growing problem and foster improvement, CECHE is collaborating with Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) on its Global Dump Soft Drinks Campaign. The initiative, which launched in October 2007 at the Consumers International Conference in Sydney, aims to reduce consumption of high-calorie carbonated beverages worldwide to improve diet and health. It seeks to establish working relationships with industry leaders in areas where progress can be made and to provide communications points for advocates, including a detailed Web site, www.dumpsoftdrinks.org, which spotlights the program’s mission, features a full description of the health repercussions of soft drink consumption and showcases prominent international media coverage surrounding the initiative.

CECHE has specifically provided support for CSPI’s collaboration with VOICE, a consumer-advocacy coalition in India that is among more than a dozen non-governmental organizations partnering with CSPI to “dump soda.” Citing rapidly rising rates of overweight and obesity and the connection to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and other diet-related illnesses, VOICE has urged India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the country’s ministers for Health & Family Welfare and Consumer Affairs to safeguard the health of the food supply and Indian youth by curbing soft drinks marketing, particularly to children. VOICE has also demanded the promotion of lower-sugar products; a reduction in portion sizes; a limit on sponsorships; a value-added tax on soft drinks to fund physical activity and nutrition education programs; and mandatory calorie labeling and serving sizes. In addition, VOICE is working with CECHE and CSPI on a nationwide push to remove soft drinks from Indian schools.

VOICE is bolstering its efforts by mounting local media campaigns and putting pressure on industry; and leading beverage makers PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are reaching out to discuss demands.

On the international front, in January 2008, CSPI reported the launch of a number of “dump soft drinks” movements, including one in New Delhi supported by the Indian Federation of Consumer Organizations; one in Malaysia organized by the Consumers Association of Penang; and another in Stockholm under the auspices of the Swedish Consumers Coalition. National campaigns have also kicked off in Mexico, Australia, Uganda and Canada.

As part of these initiatives, the consumer organizations wrote letters calling on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to:

  • Cease all marketing of sugar-laden or caffeinated beverages to children under 16
  • Stop selling sweetened beverages, including sports drinks and non-carbonated fruit-flavored beverages and teas, in all public and private elementary, middle and high schools
  • Display prominently the calorie content per serving on the front labels of drink containers
  • Include rotating consumer alert messages on the labels of sugary beverages
  • Limit sponsorships promoting physical activity and health to blind trusts overseen by government agencies.

The letters also called on the companies not to oppose small taxes on soft drinks, the revenues from which could be used for health-related programs. Soft drinks are already taxed in some jurisdictions in the United States and Canada, and last year in America, Coke and Pepsi actually supported legislation that would have removed non-diet soft drinks from schools. Coca-Cola has also agreed to front-label disclosure of calorie content in Australia.

Advances like these are a step in the right direction, but they are often confined to one country, in response to national political pressures. Going forward, CSPI, CECHE and the campaign’s partners will continue their international push to limit the marketing and sale of soft drinks worldwide in an effort to reduce exposure and consumption, and improve global health.


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Copyright © 2008 Center for Communications, Health and the Environment (CECHE)
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