Why are Kenya’s Safaricom and Coca-Cola teaming up to promote diabetes?

Earlier this week I found out that Kenya’s major telecommunications company Safaricom and Coca-Cola were partnering up in a new promotion, where customers who buy coke bottles with a yellow cap would be entitled to free data bundles and SMSs.

This new promotion really got me thinking about what kind of message that was being promoted to my fellow Kenyans. In my field of work i see a lot of people struggling with diabetes, obesity and other sugar and lifestyle related diseases.

My job is to try and help and guide people on what the right lifestyle choices are by knowing what to avoid, what to eat in moderation and also what foods work for your body.

This new Safaricom and Coca-Cola promotion is about to make my job that much harder. What I find especially interesting is the mixed messages that Safaricom is sending out to its customers, especially the young, digitized generation (of which I am sure this data bundle and phone oriented promotion was targeting).

I think this promotion should really be renamed along the lines of “buy a coke and stand a chance of getting diabetes”!. -I do not understand how one of the main sponsors for the annual Kenyan diabetes walk could team up with a company that essentially sells diabetes in plastic bottles, yet it is well established how much sugar can be found in Coke.

This partnership is especially worrying given the extent to which lifestyle diseases are becoming a huge problem in Kenya and Africa as a whole.

Findings by the UN taskforce indicate that approximately 100, 000, (27%) of deaths between people aged 30 to 70 in Kenya are due to diseases such as heart ailments , cancer, and diabetes. raising concerns over these statistics which are higher than the World Health Organisation’s global target of less than 25% of premature deaths from Non Communicable Diseases by 2025.

Consumption of soft drinks like Coca Cola has repeatedly been identified as a high risk factor for weight gain and diabetes. A recent study conducted to investigate whether sugary beverages and “diet” beverages could influence the risk of type 2 diabetes (even when controlling for obesity) indicated that there is a positive relationship between the two.

The meta-analysis included 17 observational studies involving more than 38,250 cases of type 2 diabetes, all of which reported consumption of sugary drinks, fruit juice, and artificially sweetened beverages. None of the studies were funded by the industry.

According to the authors, higher consumption of sugar sweetened beverages [one 250 ml serving per day or higher] was associated with a greater incidence of type 2 diabetes, by 18 percent per one serving/day and 13 percent before and after adjustment for body fat.

It should also be noted that ‘diet’ drinks like Coke Zero and Pepsi diet are just as bad! To ‘help’ diabetics and those struggling with their weight, the beverage industry has created a large niche of “diet” beverages, sweetened with artificial no- or low-calorie sweeteners.

Despite claims that ‘diet’ drinks are much better for one’s health, rates of obesity and diabetes have continued to climb, and research over the past 30 years has repeatedly shown these drinks have very similar effects as regular sugar, promoting both obesity, diabetes and other sugar related diseases.

For example, one 2012 study found that saccharin and aspartame both cause greater weight gain than sugar, even when the total caloric intake remains similar. Research published the following year highlighted the fact that ‘diet’ soda drinkers suffer the same exact health problems as those who opt for regular soda, including excessive weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.

It is in light with these stark and worrying statistics that I want to put Safaricom on the spot. These studies as well as the countless others not mentioned, make it is clear that soft drinks cause a very big health risk to society and are a cause for rising cases of diabetes in Kenya and the world.

Instead of promoting healthy seeking behaviours they are actively encouraging Kenyans (especially the younger generation) to purchase more soda by giving customers free texts and bundles. I will conclude by asking if they will be giving free diabetes screenings to go with these yellow capped Coke bottles too?