Bolivia is grappling with a major problem that has nothing to do with the war on drugs but does involve a highly addictive substance: soda. Consumption of the sugary beverage has more than doubled since 2000, according to government figures, spurring an epidemic of diabetes.
The evidence of dependence is omnipresent in the South American nation. On every corner vendors sell ‘’super size’’ 4 litre bottles of Coca-Cola, Sprite, Pepsi and local favorites La Cascada and Mendocina. The average Bolivian now drinks 94 litres of soda every year, second only to Uruguay, where consumption has jumped 172 percent in the last 15 years.
Soda on sale in a bus terminal in La Paz, Bolivia. | Photo: EFE
Marcario Callisaya, a 58-year-old cab driver in La Paz, spends much of his day sitting in his cab grabbing the fast food he can between fares. He developed diabetes in part due to his love of sugary drinks and says he has many friends with the same problem. ‘’I blame the heat,” he told teleSUR English. “Everyone here drinks Coca-Cola and Pepsi because it’s so warm.”
And everyone, it seems, is suffering because of it. ‘’Out of 10 of my friends, six have diabetes,” said Callisaya. His son has it too. And that could lead to further problems down the line. Indeed, a growing number of Bolivians are developing heart problems due in part to drinks loaded with sugar.
The American Heart Association says Bolivia has the third highest rate of obesity in the Americas.
“We need to educate the people more about the risks and damage that excessive consumption of these types of drinks causes,” said Alendra Silvetti, a nutritionist. The problem is especially great for young children, she said.
The country’s love of fried chicken and carbohydrate-rich foods doesn’t help either, with doctors saying the bad dietary habits are being passed down from generation to generation.
The government of Bolivia is aware of the problem. A law currently being debated would prohibit misleading advertising of processed and fast foods — the use of actors, for instance, who claim they enjoy the product and look and feel great.
Back on the congested streets of La Paz, taxi driver Marcario Callisaya is not optimistic. ‘’Clean, healthy eating is a thing of the past,’’ he said.
He may well be right. With a seemingly unquenchable thirst for all things sugary, it may take a generation before this toxic love affair with soda fizzles out.