Those epidemics are even worse among communities of color, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity affects nearly half of all African-Americans and 42 percent of Latinos, versus just over one-third of whites. A 2016 study in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities found that soda consumption was a particularly strong predictor of future weight-gain for black children.
“There’s a health crisis in the U.S., especially in our communities, and especially among children,” said Javier Morales, director of the Praxis Project. This is not coincidental, he added: “They target our communities with their marketing. We’re going into those communities trying to save lives, and they’re going out and erasing our message.”
The soda industry has argued that it has done a lot to support communities of color and the fight against obesity. In recent years, these companies have increased their portfolios of low-calorie and no-calorie beverages.
“We support the recommendation of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), that people should limit their intake of added sugar to no more than 10 percent of their total daily calorie intake. We have begun a journey toward that goal,” Coke said in a statement. “So we are taking action to offer people more drinks in smaller, more convenient sizes, reducing sugar in many of our existing beverages, and making more low and no-sugar beverage choices available and easier to find at local stores. We’ll also continue making calorie and nutrition information clear and accessible so people can make more informed choices for themselves and their families without the guesswork.”
Soda companies have also, through the American Beverage Association, funded a number of nutrition and healthy cooking programs in low-income neighborhoods in New York, Los Angeles and other cities. ABA’s partners on that project include the National Council of La Raza and the National Urban League.
“America’s beverage companies know we have an important role to play in addressing our nation’s health challenges. That’s why we’re engaging with health groups and community organizations to drive a reduction in the sugar and calories Americans get from beverages,” the ABA said in a statement. “Unfounded accusations like these won’t do anything to address health concerns, but the actions we’re taking, particularly in areas where obesity rates are among the highest, can make a difference.”
But soda companies market more to Latino and black communities. Multiple studies by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut have found that soda ads appear more frequently during TV shows targeted to black audiences. Black teens see three times as many Coca-Cola ads than white teens do. Billboards and other signs for low-nutrient foods show up more in black and Latino neighborhoods.