Latin America’s Coke, Pepsi, Postobon CEOs Launch Anti-Obesity Campaign in Medellin
At a June 17 press conference at the World Economic Forum in Medellin, Coca-Cola FEMSA (Latin America) CEO John Santa Maria joined with PepsiCo Latin America CEO Laxman Narasimhan and Postobon (Colombia) president Miguel Escobar in unveiling a nationwide “Healthy Future” campaign aiming to educate consumers on diet and exercise regimes to avoid obesity.
Spokespersons for two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also announced that they’re joining the soft-drink makers in the campaign: Becky Johnson, executive director of the U.S.-based Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, and Mary Rollins, senior vice-president of U.S.-based Discovery Education, a unit of the global Discovery Channel television network.
The campaign comes in the wake of growing legislative and regulatory moves to boost taxes on sugary beverages (such as Coke, Pepsi and Postobon sodas), which some health-policy advocates claim are major contributors to obesity – and most worrisome, childhood obesity.
Philadelphia and Berkeley, California, are among the U.S. cities making such tax moves, while Mexico earlier adopted a new tax on sugary beverages in what advocates claim is a move to stop near-epidemic obesity in Mexico.
Meanwhile, Colombia’s Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria also has proposed a new tax on sugary beverages in Colombia, which potentially could become part of a pending national tax-reform scheme.
Asked by Medellin Herald whether Colombia’s consumers would look skeptically upon an anti-obesity campaign led by bottlers of sugary beverages, the three executives responded that such beverages are at-most responsible for only 5% of calorie intake.
“There are so many things that people need to do to avoid obesity,” Coca-Cola Femsa CEO Santa Maria responded. “Yes, we contribute to some of it [daily calorie consumption], but not most of it.
“Obesity is a multi-factor disease. In Mexico, obesity [is traced to consuming] 3,000 calories per day and sugary beverages are only 5% of that. But in Colombia, sugary beverage consumption is only one-third of the Mexico level,” he added.
In any case, Coca-Cola continues to expand its beverage offerings, including bottled water and other “light” or zero-calorie drinks, with the result that 40% of the beverage portfolio doesn’t have any caloric content, he added.
Postobon president Escobar added that “this is about education. We believe there are many causes [to obesity]. We’re concerned that we haven’t faced this issue as we should. We’ll make all efforts, especially for the poorest kids, and we invite government and other industries and other organizations to join” the campaign.
PepsiCO’s Narasimhan added that the new campaign has a “big education component,” which is “why we like this.”
Healthy Weight foundation exec Johnson added that in addition to the companies launching a consumer education campaign, “these companies won’t advertise [sugary beverages] to kids under 12 years old, and they will remove full-calorie beverages from schools.”
What’s more, “there’s not just one source of obesity,” Johnson added. Sugary beverages are “5% of consumption and obesity is not just from this 5%.”
Discovery’s Rollins added that avoiding obesity “is about establishing healthy habits,” including a healthy food intake, proper exercise and sufficient sleep.