‘Viva Mexico!’

Battling a societal addiction to sugary drinks is not easy, but Mexico’s opening salvo against rising rates of diabetes is being trumpeted as a bold move. At 14%, diabetes is the number one killer in Mexico. Mexicans also drink a tremendous amount of sugary drinks – nearly half a litre a day. In response, the Mexican government has come out swinging with a soda tax of 10% and a junk food tax of 7%.

And even better – the tax is targeted, with proceeds to go towards clean, safe drinking water for all Mexican schools.

The tax, proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto, was brought in as part of a fiscal reform package. The money to be raised, estimated at 15bn pesos, is intended to be earmarked for drinking water in schools – in some communities there is none, while in others it is not potable and bottled soft drinks are safer. The earmarking of the tax has still to pass a final stage in the senate.

The question is whether this increase in price will succeed in changing habits – how attached are people to their soda? According to a Guardian article, Mexicans are big consumers of sugary drinks – “Every year, Mexico’s 118 million people drink 163 litres of soda, or nearly half a litre a day.” So a rise in price of 10% should have a small impact, although it is half of the amount requested by public health experts.

The beverage industry is already reporting declines in sales – and are projecting reductions of 5% to 7% over the coming year.

So will a soda tax make an immediate difference in health outcomes? That’s unlikely, even according to the proponents of the tax. However, what the tax does is demonstrate to the population that sugary drinks are harmful to health, just like tobacco and alcohol.
This educational process will be further enhanced, as Mexico has also just restricted the marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

Advertising of unhealthy foods will be restricted from 2:30 pm to 7:30 pm on television on weekdays and the hours increase to 7:30 am to 7:30 pm on weekends, the hours when most children would be watching. This protects children against marketing and adds to the ‘educative effect’ that Mexico is striving for.

In the long-term, the National Institute of Public Health predicts that “a 10% tax should reduce that to 141 litres per year, preventing up to 630,000 cases of diabetes by 2030.”

So, BCAHL says ‘Viva Mexico!’ for taking this bold step to promote healthy habits through protective legislation. BCAHL supports sugary drink taxes as one tactic among the many required to support making the healthy choice the easier choice.

Samantha Hartley-Folz
Manager, Programs and Policy

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