Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Are Now Cheaper Than Bottled Water in Many Countries; Cheaper Soda Is Likely to Lead to Higher Rates of Obesity, Diabetes and Cancer Worldwide, According to a New Report from the CDC and American Cancer Society

By Firger, Jessica | Newsweek, June 2, 2017 | Go to article overview

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Are Now Cheaper Than Bottled Water in Many Countries; Cheaper Soda Is Likely to Lead to Higher Rates of Obesity, Diabetes and Cancer Worldwide, According to a New Report from the CDC and American Cancer Society


Firger, Jessica, Newsweek


Byline: Jessica Firger

It's well known that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages is bad for your health. Regularly guzzling drinks such as soda is a surefire way to put on weight, increasing risk for chronic and fatal medical conditions such as diabetes and some cancers. But as more people worldwide adopt a Western diet, soda is becoming a staple in many countries of all socioeconomic levels. A new study just published in the Center's for Disease Control and Prevention's Preventing Chronic Diseases finds the demand is turning these drinks into a mainstay in many developing economies where income is rising. As a result, sugar-sweetened beverages are more plentiful and affordable.

The study by researchers from the American Cancer Society involved 40 high-income countries and 42 low-income and middle-income countries from 1990 to 2016. The researchers used data from the Economist Intelligence Unit's World Cost of Living Survey that tracks the price of sugar-sweetened beverages in countries worldwide. (The researchers used information on Coca-Cola "as a proxy for all sugar-sweetened beverages because it is is the most globally recognized sugar-sweetened beverage brand and largely homogeneous," according to the paper.) These numbers were cross-referenced with data from the International Monetary Fund's World Economic Outlook Database, which follows trends in income and inflation. The researchers defined soda affordability as the average annual percentage change of income country-wide compared with the annual price for soda.

Overall they found 79 of the 82 countries reviewed in the study met the criteria for increased affordability of soda, meaning the proportion of income needed to purchase sugar-sweetened beverages, compared with the price of these drinks, declined. Additionally, the real prices of soda dropped in 56 of the 82 countries.

"We know that sugar-sweetened beverages are very calorie-dense, and they're a very easy and not very healthy source of calories," says Jeffrey Drope, deputy director for the American Cancer Society's research program and a co-author of the study. "If they continue to become more affordable then most certainly consumption will continue to increase," which will lead to obesity problems and an increase in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer, Drope said.

China topped the list for the largest increase in affordability due to the decline in soda prices and increases in incomes. In Iran, both income and the price of soda increased, meaning it maintained its affordability. The authors also reviewed price trends for bottled water and found that bottled water is typically less affordable than sugar-sweetened beverages.

However, there are some limits to this study. A spokesperson from the Coca-Cola Company points out that the researchers didn't use data to track the actual sales of softdrinks, and the company also argues information on income and soda price is not enough to arrive at the study's conclusion.

"The authors mistakenly conclude that increased affordability of sugar-sweetened beverages will inevitably lead to higher consumption, which real world experience disproves," a Coca-Cola Company spokesperson tells Newsweek. "In areas such as the U.S., U.K., and EU, where these types of beverages are most affordable, consumption is actually steady or declining. …

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