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Coca-Colonization and the Double-Edged Sword of Malnutrition

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

While researching relevant statistics regarding healthcare in Guatemala to put together our concept note, I came across an interesting article authored by some of the folks from Hospitalito Atitlan and published in the journal Ecology of Food and Nutrition:

A few highlights include-

"Coca-colonization"= synonymous with cultural imperialism, or cultural hybridization.

Summary of conclusion drawn by the authors-

"By specifically examining biomedical perspectives, cycles of conquest, the political economy, religion, celebrations, and the physical environment through the lens of soft drinks, this study finds that Coca-colonization and cultural hybridization are complementary rather than mutually exclusive processes that contribute to dietary transitions, economic development, and differential health beliefs related to soft drink consumption."

  • Coca-colonization may represent the invasion of chronic diseases associated with developed countries such as obesity and diabetes.

  • Among Guatemalan children, 51.3% suffer from growth stunting, the highest rate in Latin America.

  • In Guatemala, 23% of households contain a growth stunted child with an overweight mother, also the highest rate in Latin America.

  • Scholars hypothesize that the increased consumption of soft drinks and junk foods among Maya populations may have exacerbated the "double-edged sword of malnutrition" by contributing to increased obesity among adults as well as growth stunting in undernourished children.

The observations of the authors are certainly consistent with our center's experience. We see an inordinately high number of adult patients who suffer from diabetes and many of the children who visit our center meet criteria to be classified as having chronic moderate to severe malnutrition.

The effects of this "double-edged sword of malnutrition" are devastating (and largely preventable). It would certainly seem to be true that Coca-colonization has been a significant factor in creating a population where adults are increasingly overweight and obese and children are increasingly malnourished- a population that is sadly overfed and undernourished.

Regardless of one's soft drink of choice, I suspect we can all agree that is a glass less than half full. Hopefully, we can combat the "double-edged sword of malnutrition" via education and providing our patients with access to clean filtered water in lieu of carbonated sugar water.

Top Photo by Ricardo Cruz on Unsplash

Bottom Photo by Peyman Farmani on Unsplash


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