In January 2014 Mexico declared war on its growing obesity epidemic by implementing a tax of one peso per litre on sugar-sweetened beverages. While introducing the tax has been debated in other countries, there has been little research into whether Mexico’s strategy is actually working – until now.
A new report published in The BMJ has found that one year on, sales of sugary drinks have dropped in Mexico - the first evidence of positive changes.
In 2014, the average person bought four fewer litres of taxed drinks, with the most significant decline in low socioeconomic households.
According to the report, there has been on average a six per cent decline in the purchases of sweetened beverages, not to mention a four per cent average increase in the purchase of untaxed drinks, such as bottled water. The overall decline in sugary drink purchases led to a 12 per cent drop in December 2014.
Researchers found that in 2014, the average person bought four fewer litres of taxed drinks, with the most significant decline happening in low socioeconomic households.
It's a promising start for one of the workd's top consumers of sugar, but experts say it’s too early to say whether Mexico’s soda tax is actually working – the research does not include other factors such as public health campaigns or economic changes.
While taxes may be part of a health strategy, they are not the “magic bullet in the fight against obesity.”
“The full extent of substitutions made by Mexican consumers is not known,” Franco Sassi, a senior health economist Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris wrote in a corresponding editorial. “We also do not know from the study whether a 1 peso/L tax is large enough to achieve meaningful health benefits.” He says that while taxes may be part of a health strategy, they are not the “magic bullet in the fight against obesity.”
According to Sassi, other complementary policies are necessary: health education, regulatory measures (such as food labelling and regulation of advertising), changes in food choices and doctors counselling those at high risk.
“Taxes do have a place in a broader strategy in countries that are facing disproportionate harms from unhealthy diets, but having to make people pay for their potentially unhealthy consumption choices is not a success for public health.”