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.