PBS New Hour aired a video report this week on a growing epidemic of tooth decay among El Salvador's children.
CARL NASMAN: One of the first to notice a decline in dental health was Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, a pediatrician and professor at U.C. Berkeley. She showed us pictures from 30 years ago, when kids had healthy teeth. But just one generation later, the photos look different.One of my own pet peeves is the role of El Salvador's schools in facilitating these health risks. Every school I have ever visited in El Salvador, even 4 room schools in the poorest communities, has a snack stand run by the school where all they sell are candy, chips and other junk food. One public health step would be to change what is sold in these snack stands. (It might also clean up some of the wrappers, bags and plastic strewn across the playgrounds and along the streets).
DR. KAREN SOKAL-GUTIERREZ: This is a child who has all of the teeth on the bottom rotten and all of the teeth on the top.
Years later, when I go into a village and the kid would come flock around us and hug us and smile, that's when I saw, oh, my God, their teeth are all black and rotten. I have never seen this before. What happened?
CARL NASMAN: Professor Gutierrez and her team of volunteers work on the ground in El Salvador, training health workers and donating supplies.
She estimates that 85 percent of kids in rural areas of El Salvador have tooth decay, and nearly half experience mouth pain, leading to serious problems, like jaw infections, tooth loss, and malnutrition. She puts much of the blame on snack food imported from the United States.
With sales peaking at home, American companies are searching for new markets. In 2009, 25 percent of Coca-Cola's operating profits came from Latin America. And, last year, nearly half of Pepsi's sales were from outside the U.S.
DR. KAREN SOKAL-GUTIERREZ: The marketing of junk food, candy, chips, soda at very low price really takes advantage of the poorest people. So, they're trying to show this image that if you drink soda or eat the junk food, you will be healthy, happy, modern.