Pushing back against beverage industry marketing and exploitation

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Last week another commercialized commemoration of Cinco de Mayo came and went. It was a cringe-inducing reminder of how each year Latino culture is exploited to sell everything from beer to queso cheese dip to taco shells and even airline tickets ("Celebrate Cinco de Fly-O with a JetBlue Getaways vacation package.")

It also brought to mind another type of exploitation of Latinos and other communities of color — only this exploitation happens every second of every day. And the consequences are dire.

Each year beverage companies spend nearly half a billion dollars to market to teens, disproportionately targeting Latino and African American youth. And all that marketing makes a significant impact on what youth buy. Two-thirds of California teens drink at least one sugary drink each day (which significantly increases the risk of getting type 2 diabetes) and children of color drink even more.


In fact, soda and other sugary beverages are the number one source of added sugar in the U.S. diet. The result is an urgent health crisis: One in two Latino and African American children are predicted to get diabetes in their lifetime. An estimated 40 percent of all children will get the disease, according to research studies compiled by the nonprofit Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.

Youth aren't the only ones targeted. For this past Mother's Day, Coca-Cola released a dramatic video campaign in Spanish titled: "Give your mother the gift she wants most. Call her." The video includes a link to call your mother for free if you register your personal information with Coca-Cola — another marketing mechanism to involve consumers as brand ambassadors.

Efforts by health advocates to change the way the junk food and sugary beverage industries target communities of color, especially youth, have been met with fierce resistance. The sugary beverage industry is quick to point to consumer health education as the answer to overconsumption of its unhealthy products — a hypocritical stance from an industry whose business model is based on overconsumption (Super Big Gulp, anyone?) What's more, consumer health education is no match for the spending power of industry marketing budgets. Not to mention corporate social responsibility campaigns that fund everything from scholarships for Latino and African American students to vital programs for organizations of color to the aforementioned free calls to mamá.

At Berkeley Media Studies Group, we believe in the power of policy change and its ability to make the largest impact in improving the health of our communities. Assembly Bill 1357, a bill that will create a dedicated revenue source for health promotion and disease prevention, is an important step in preventing diabetes in the communities most affected by the disease.

The fee would fund projects such as healthy eating education at schools, farm-to-school programs and child tooth decay prevention efforts (another serious health consequence of sugary drinks).

In addition, the fee would be used to provide clean water stations at schools and other facilities for youth. Having been born and raised in west side of the Central Valley, I'm all too familiar with the water quality issues there. Residents in my hometown of Mendota still go out and purchase their water in big jugs because the water from the tap tastes terrible. For many, especially youth, soda and other sugary drinks are an unfortunate alternative.

In Mexico, where the majority of the California's estimated 14 million Latinos originate from, a similar tax on sugary beverages has led to a shift in the beverages that are consumed, starting with a 10 percent reduction of purchases, a 7 percent increase in healthier drink purchases (low sugar drinks, milk, 100% juice), and 13 percent increase in bottled water, according to a study from Mexico's National Institute of Public Health in conjunction with the University of North Carolina that has been highlighted by the author of AB 1357, Assembly member Richard Bloom.

Back home, until there is a more enlightened — and diverse — media and marketing landscape that recognizes and is sensitive to the exploitation of communities of color, prevention programs funded by sugary drink fees will help give our communities a fighting chance in the diabetes epidemic.










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