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Colombia orders NGO to suspend health message on dangers of sugary drinks

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Writing for the blog of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health, Sarah Roache reported that the Colombian government recently ordered an NGO, Educar Consumidores, to suspend a television advertisement on the health risks associated with drinking sugary beverages. The order to pull the ad followed a complaint from Colombia’s largest beverage company and Pepsi affiliate, Gaseosas Postobon, which claimed the ad misled consumers in breach of Colombian law. The “Tomala en Serio television ad shows a man drinking sugary beverages throughout the day: a bottled juice in the morning, an iced tea at lunch time, and sodas in the evening. The images are accompanied by graphics showing how many teaspoons of sugar are in each drink.

The decision from the Superintendent of Industry and Commerce found that the ad contained inaccurate and misleading information about the health impacts of consuming sugary beverages. The superintendent found that the ads messages were not supported by scientific evidence, noting a lack of scientific certainty in terms of the causal relationship between sugar consumption and diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

Just as these ads say, sugary beverage consumption is a significant contributor to weight gain, overweight and obesity are important risk factors for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and premature death. The superintendent’s decision, which was reached without a hearing, is based on an incorrect understanding of the scientific evidence. The decision to suspend the ban is based heavily on the superintendent’s finding of “lack of evidence,” rendering the decision flawed. Unfortunately, the decision doesn’t stop there; the order requires Educar Consumidores to seek pre-approval for future ads concerning sugary beverages.