Mexico’s ground-breaking soft drinks tax

A groundbreaking tax on sugar-sweetened beverages became law in Mexico in January 2014. Public health advocates are watching closely to see what impact – if any – the tax will have on consumption.

Obesity and diabetes are a public health crisis in Mexico:

  • 32.8% of the population is obese and it is now the country with the biggest weight problem in the world, according to the UN’s Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO), taking the number one slot from the US
  • a further 40% of the population are overweight
  • 8.7 million people of Mexico’s population of 120 million have diabetes

mexico soft drinks tax - amputee

Sweetened beverages are taking much of the blame for this situation. Mexicans drink 163 million litres of soda each, more than half a litre a day – 40% more than Americans consume. For comparison, Mexican per capita consumption of milk is only 130 litres.

The new soft drink tax has been set at 10% per litre. Health advocates had campaigned for a 20% tax. Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health believes that a 10% tax should reduce consumption by about 12%.

In addition to the new tax, major efforts are going into raising public awareness of the risks of diabetes. To take one example, the Allianza por la Salud Alimentaria is running a hard-hitting advertising campaign, called “Fue la obesidad, después la diabetes…” (“It was obesity and later diabetes…”) released in November of 2013 in Mexico City, which aims to alert people to the serious health consequences of diabetes – and its relationship with the consumption of sodas. Posters appeared across Mexico City showing – among other dramatic images – a man with parts of his feet missing as a result of diabetes.

You can read about the campaign on the organisation’s website: http://alianzasalud.org.mx/conoce-la-campana-fue-la-obesidad-despues-la-diabetes/

The Mexican government launched a national obesity strategy in October at which Coca-Cola Latin America’s president appeared on a platform with Mexico’s President, Pena Nieto. Coca-Cola pledged to focus on sales of low-calorie and no-calorie drinks, improve the transparency of labelling and not market to children under the age of 12.

Excessive consumption of sweetened drinks – and excessive consumption of any kind of food or beverage – is something that should be discouraged. However, it will be another year before we know whether the Mexican initiative has had any effect.

The risk is that public health advocates in other countries will try to present the Mexican approach as a “magic bullet” to the problem of obesity and overweight. Society does not need “magic bullets” – instead we need a more holistic approach that enables and encourages people to take responsibility for themselves, to take more exercise and to overall improve their dietary choices. A tax alone will not do that.

 

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