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|August 25, 1999||
Colas like Coke, Pepsi are injurious to health, assert Mexican consumer watchdogs
Excessive intake of soft drinks such as Coca-Cola or Pepsi Cola can stimulate de-calcification in living organisms, according to physicians' reports and consumer watchdogs in Mexico.
Medical associations have been using the media, conferences, and workshops to raise public awareness about the side-effects of consuming a high quantity of soft drinks which, in Mexico, average some 160 litres a year per resident.
This consumption, according to figures from the non- governmental Mexican Association of Studies for Consumer Defence, represents annual sales of $ 11.8 billion for the transnationals Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.
Excessive consumption of soft drinks constitutes ''the gravest distortion of our eating habits,'' says the associatio. Besides, the ''zero proteins, vitamins and minerals'' contained in soft drinks can cause appetite loss and malnutrition.
The giant corporations that dominate this sector ''spend $ 500 million a year on advertising, with which they influence Mexicans to lower their intake of nutritional foods like milk, which costs 35 cents less'' than a bottle of cola.
To reverse ''the deep-rooted trend among Mexicans of drinking excessive amounts of cola, the best thing we can do is to unconditionally tell our patients not to ingest these products,'' Claudio Argote, one of the doctors campaigning against soft drinks, told news agencies.
After extensive research, doctors are focusing on the dual objectives of educating the population about their nutritional needs and ''the harmful effects of drinking sweetened carbonated beverages.''
The campaign only recently has begun to receive wide attention, adds Argote, who is vice-president of the Medical College of Cirujanos de la Laguna, headquartered in the city of Torreon in the northern state of Coahuila.
Medical studies support the hypothesis that cola consumption increases the incidence of fractures and reduces the amount of calcium in the bones. All soft drinks contain substances that are harmful to living organisms, but ''caffeine and phosphates are what makes these beverages particularly unhealthy''.
Caffeine, in addition to ''creating an addiction'', affects blood pressure, speeds up the heartbeat and provokes cerebral stimulation, doctors say.
The combination of refined sugar and fructose with phosphorous acid alters the balance of calcium and phosphorous, eventually even blocking iron absorption into the body, according to Argote. At the same time, ''excessive consumption of phosphoric acid impedes calcium absorption.''
This posed a ''terrible threat to the bone development of children and teenagers and increases the risk that women will contract osteoporosis,'' he says.
When contacted by IPS news aegncy, the Mexican affiliates of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo refused to comment on the accusations about their products.
Hector Bourges, sub-director of nutrition of the state National Institute of Nutrition, said that his agency recommends ''moderate consumption of soft drinks''.
The NIN ''does not undertake campaigns for or against any product. However, in the venues in which nutritional awareness is discussed, technical personnel from the agency do warn of the health risks incurred by drinking too many soft drinks,'' Bourges says.
The poor quality of drinking water in Mexico ''results in a higher consumption of other beverages'' and explains the huge market for soft drinks.
Annual cola expenditures in Mexico exceed the amount spent on the ten staple foods combined, including milk, bread and eggs. Based on studies undertaken by Consumers International, a London-based organisation with which it is affiliated, an activist asserts that cola drinks cause tooth decay, obesity and hypertension.
''Caffeine is an addictive drug whose potency is increased when it is consumed cold, which explains why millions of people around the world 'can't live without' drinking two or three colas a day,'' the association affirms.
Caffeine acts as a stimulant, and ''can cause tachycardia (abnormally fast heartbeat), insomnia, headache, gastric ulcer and anxiety,'' while extracts from the cola nut ''stimulate the digestive and nervous systems,'' it says.
In addition, it claims that dyes like E-150, which give colas their characteristic dark brown colour, ''have been linked to vitamin B-6 deficiency, hyperactivity and low blood glucose levels.''
Carbonated gas, which gives cola its crisp texture and flavour and cuts its sweetness, ''is a source of psychological addiction,'' the activist says.
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