In Mex­ico, a Soda Tax Suc­cess Story

A vic­tory in the war against obe­sity and at­ten­dant dis­eases is worth em­u­lat­ing

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - BLOOMBERG VIEW -

One of the world’s high­est soda taxes ap­pears to be work­ing. Af­ter just one year, pur­chases of sug­ary drinks in Mex­ico are down 12 per­cent, a new study shows. Even bet­ter, the big­gest re­duc­tions have oc­curred among the poor, who can least af­ford health care. Sug­ary drinks are a pri­mary driver of obe­sity, and Mex­ico’s obe­sity rate is the se­cond-high­est in the de­vel­oped world, trail­ing only that of the U.S. Other gov­ern­ments— in­clud­ing Amer­ica’s—should be en­cour­aged to im­pose sim­i­lar taxes and take other strong ac­tions to curb soda drink­ing.

Obe­sity is be­com­ing a global epi­demic, and it’s catch­ing gov­ern­ments flat-footed. Some have en­cour­aged chil­dren to ex­er­cise and eat healthy foods—worth­while ad­vice. Oth­ers have con­ducted weight-loss com­pe­ti­tions. Yet the epi­demic wors­ens. With­out bolder ac­tions, the spread of di­a­betes and other weight-re­lated dis­eases will con­tinue.

The re­sults of the Mex­ico study (which was funded in part by Bloomberg Phi­lan­thropies) are en­cour­ag­ing but not sur­pris­ing. Rais­ing the price of al­co­hol and to­bacco through so-called sin taxes, which al­most all gov­ern­ments do, has proved to be an ef­fec­tive way to dis­cour­age their use. More study of Mex­ico’s tax is still needed, par­tic­u­larly about what im­pact, if any, the de­cline in soda sales has had on obe­sity. But the ini­tial ev­i­dence should lead oth­ers to se­ri­ously con­sider adopt­ing sim­i­lar taxes.

Sug­ary drinks should also be elim­i­nated from the fed­eral food stamps pro­gram. Ev­ery dol­lar a fam­ily spends on cola is a dol­lar that can’t be spent on car­rots. Sug­ary drinks are the very def­i­ni­tion of empty calo­ries, pro­vid­ing no sus­te­nance and do­ing noth­ing to al­le­vi­ate hunger. A tax­payer-fi­nanced nutri­tion pro­gram shouldn’t leave peo­ple both hun­gry and sick. Peo­ple need to eat more peas and broc­coli and con­sume far less sugar, and they’ll have more suc­cess do­ing that if sug­ary drinks are taxed rather than sub­si­dized. <BW>

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