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Last week’s Bloomberg Businessweek reports on Coca-Cola’s efforts to expand its market in Africa, which the reporter Duane Stanford describes as the final frontier in Coke profits.

Coke is now in a street-by-street campaign to win drinkers, trying to increase per-capita annual consumption of its beverages in countries not yet used to guzzling Coke by the gallon. To do so, Coca-Cola is applying lessons learned in Latin America, where an aggressive courtship of small stores helped boost per-capita consumption in Mexico to the highest in the world.

While recognizing the importance of Coke as a contributor to economic development – Coke is Africa’s largest employer – let’s also take a moment to look at this “success” in Mexico and its implications for health.

In 2008, soft drinks represented 20 percent of the average number of calories consumed by adolescents and adults in Mexico. Ninety percent of adolescents drink a soda daily. Large sample studies have linked soda consumption in Mexico with increasing body mass index; about 69% of women 20-49 years old are now overweight or obese, a risk factor for many non-communicable diseases. Consequently, overweight and obesity problems now coexist with micronutrient deficiencies like anemia that have effects on cognitive ability and academic performance. Of course, while Mexico consumes more Coca-Cola than any other country, Coca-Cola drinks are not the only sugary drinks in Mexico – Mexico’s own aguas frescas and other sodas also figure prominently.

A question for industry: Your efforts to be good corporate citizens are welcome, but can you market healthier drinks in developing countries as successfully as Coke? See my colleague Rachel Nugent’s recent working paper and podcast on non-communicable disease for more information on the rising problems of obesity and diabetes in the developing world.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.