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Tooth Decay Epidemic Going Global Thanks to Pepsi and Coke

Tooth Decay Epidemic Going Global Thanks to Pepsi and Coke


Sales of soda are stagnating in America — as Americans curb consumption in response to a variety of health concerns — so beverage companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are looking towards economies elsewhere. Last month, for example, Coca-Cola announced plans to invest $5 billion in India by 2020. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Indians on average consume only 12 eight-ounce bottles of Coke a year, as compared with 240 in Brazil and 90 bottles globally. Coca-Cola aims to double its revenue and volume by 2020 through expansion into emerging markets like India and China. But as profits grow from around the world, so do the problems related to the consumption of soda and junk food.

In a post published on The Atlantic, New York University professor of nutrition, food studies and public health Marion Nestle writes about Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, a pediatrician who is working to address the tooth decay epidemic among children in rural El Salvador, where 3-liter bottles of soda can be found in many stores. There, according to Dr. Sokal-Gutierrez and reported on PBS NewsHour, an estimated 85 percent of these children have tooth decay and nearly half of them have mouth pain — pain that can be so bad for some that they cannot eat or sleep. Thirty years ago, children in these regions had perfect teeth.

I e-mailed Dr. Sokal-Gutierrez for permission to publish the above photo of one child’s open mouth. The mouth, she informed me, belongs to a 5 ˝ year old child, and all 20 of his baby teeth were decayed. “His family owns the village store,” Dr. Sokal-Gutierrez wrote, “so he had easy access to junk food, and the worst tooth decay in his village. But the store is right across from the school, and most children bought junk food on the way to and from school… In developing countries, they say that education is the way out of poverty, but how can children learn if their teeth are rotten, they’re malnourished and have mouth pain?”

“Good dental care helps insulate Americans from junk food-related tooth decay,” Nestle points out. “But in a country like El Salvador, where access to care is limited, it’s a different story.” The Salvadoran Association for Rural Health, or ASAPROSAR, offers free dental health services and education to families and children in rural El Salvador, but work also has to be done to address the source of the problem: the soda and junk food that these children are consuming.

In defense of their products, Pepsi and Coca-Cola issued these statements to PBS NewsHour:

Pepsi: “With basic dental hygiene practices, people have enjoyed our products for decades without risk to their dental health.”

Coca-Cola: “We believe that parents should decide what their children eat and drink… Any food or beverage containing sugars and starches, including some of our beverages, can contribute to the development of cavities.”

The companies have pledged to stop marketing to children, NewsHour reports, but their products are as popular as ever. In 2009, 25 percent of Coca-Cola’s profits came from Latin America, and last year nearly half of Pepsi’s sales were from outside the U.S. This is about expansion into emerging markets, about businesses being only as viable as they are scalable, whatever the costs to society. Apparently having tapped out the market for soda in America, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are now looking for additional growth opportunities,  and they are taking advantage of whole new swaths of unsuspecting consumers in other parts of the world, like these children of El Salvador.


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12:56PM PDT on Aug 5, 2012


1:11PM PDT on Jul 16, 2012

Have these parents ever heard of brushing and flossing????? Come on now!!!! My daughter hates soda all she drinks is water (occasionally white milk) and my son moslty drinks juice and lemonade. Neither one of them have ever had a cavity. They brush their teeth twice a day and floss at night. Don't blame Pepsi and Coke. Blame the lazy parents who don't care. My children's dentist told me to keep them away from gatorade because it's the equivalent to battery acid.

4:50PM PDT on Jul 10, 2012

It's the sugar and lack of brushing. The sugar absorbs right into the tooth. It's not just processed sugar from junk food- it's all sugars including natural sugars. I know a lot of raw vegans(not vegans) who's diet contains 50% of fruit who all have tooth decay. It's not just one tooth, it's several on several different occasions. Once you get it, it keeps coming back unless you maintain it and get rid of it for good. This can also be just one factor, as raw vegans food is pure and the acid seems to be stronger than in foods that are cooked. I'm a vegan as well and I'm not bashing raw- veganism. Also grains tend to absurd sugars as they don't have as much contact to the teeth as much as if eaten alone. Raw vegans and kids who eat a lot of sugar have one thing in common- energy. All types of sugar give off short sprints of energy. We should all minimize our fruit intake and eat more vegetables and nuts. Juice should be minimized in our diets all together, even 100% juice. Our bodies don't need that much sugar! This includes coconut water! It's just not natural.

There is another theory about those who get cavities and those who do don't- both of whom digest the same amount of sugar which has to do with a certain bacteria that forms in your mouth that feeds off carbohydrates. This is just another factor in the equation with includes sugar. The more sugar we eat, the more we are actually feeding this bacteria!

8:52AM PDT on Jul 9, 2012

Parents who give their children this junk are either ignorant, or there is child abuse.

4:20AM PDT on Jul 9, 2012

I still don't understand how the junk food - even locally made can be so cheap compared to actual food. It kind of does take the element of choice out for a lot of people

7:47PM PDT on Jul 8, 2012

I used to drink tons of soft drinks as a kid (I rarely drink it now), and I never once had a cavity in my entire life. Perhaps this is more about children not brushing their teeth or washing out there mouths with water after sugary drinks?

Don't forget that juice and even natural fruits aren't exactly kind to teeth either. Brush, even rinsing with plain water, should be done after all sugary or high acid foods, not just soft drinks.

8:56PM PDT on Jul 7, 2012

Humans will make the worst choices.

5:05AM PDT on Jul 7, 2012

Does your toothpaste contain sodium lauryl sulfate? Your toothpaste may be the guilty one.

4:54AM PDT on Jul 7, 2012

Try hydrogen peroxide. I added vanilla flavoring to it and brush my teeth with peroxide. Try baking soda too. Baking soda neutralizes mouth acidity that brings tooth decay. If I had known about this sooner, I could have saved most of my teeth.

1:29AM PDT on Jul 7, 2012

ouch that looks like a whole lot of pain! surely even though this is from a poor country the parents could notice that they needed to take action for their child's mouth! Poor doesn't equal dumb!

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