by Sairica Rose, CEB Iconoculture cultural fluent, Spain
National government-propelled health drives in countries like Mexico and Turkey are actively addressing consumers’ sugar, salt fat, caffeine and additive intakes by taxing or restricting availability of “bad-for-you” food and drink. Their mission: to lighten the load for national health services, which are buckling under the strain of obesity and diabetes epidemics.
But some experts argue that such efforts are misdirected. UK Life Sciences minister George Freeman advised the government against heavy-handed legislation that “punishes” consumers for their choices in the aisles and at the table, and he warned processed food and beverage manufacturers that if they don’t cut added sugars, they could face taxation. The industry, he claims, should pay for Britain’s soaring obesity levels, not the consumers. Off the bat, Tesco became the first supermarket to pledge to reduce the sugar content of all its drinks by 5%.
French MPs, meanwhile, have voted to ban free soda refills in all public places, saying non, merci to the bottomless cup that French fast food outlets like Quick and KFC fleetingly borrowed from their American counterparts. Elsewhere in Europe, efforts have bubbled up to curb excessive consumption of energy drinks, especially among kids. In 2014, Lithuania became the world’s first country to outlaw sales of energy drinks to under-18s. The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA) took a softer approach, launching a nationwide awareness campaign to dissuade parents from giving kids the sugar- and caffeine-laden beverages as an alternative to soft drinks.
Independent watchdogs are also fighting back against mass marketing from the food and beverage industry. The 2015 US documentary Fed Up gives consumers food for thought on hidden sugars in processed foods. It spotlights real families’ obesity battles, and the potentially misleading information their doctors and nutritionists are spoon-feeding them.
And, as scientists connect fizzy drink consumption to 184,000 adult deaths around the world each year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has spearheaded “Change the Tune,” a remake of the classic Coca Cola Hilltop ad from 1971. The video shows stars who suffer from sugar-related diseases imploring viewers: “Please drink less soda. It isn’t happiness.”
Happy or not, global brands and consumers are hearing — if not always heeding — calls for change. For more on how consumers’ perception and practices are changing (or not), see our Food Villains trend.