A tax Mexico imposed on soda and other sugary drinks has helped reduce sales of such beverages by 6 percent, according to a new study that experts hope will also lead to a drop in that nation’s obesity and diabetes rate.
On Jan. 1, 2014, the Mexican government raised the cost of sugar-sweetened beverages by about 10 percent through a 1-peso-per-liter tax.
Purchases of the taxed drinks dropped by an average of 6 percent within the first year. But the drop accelerated as the year went on, reaching 12 percent by December 2014, according to the joint study by Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health and the University of North Carolina.
While all income levels reduced their purchases of taxed drinks, the greatest sales drop was seen among poorer households, the report found.
“This is an important paper with promising results,” said Rachel K. Johnson, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont.
Of great notice was the significant impact on poorer families, “which are the households at greatest risk of developing health problems related to high sugary drink consumption such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” said Johnson.
The study also found that the sales of untaxed beverages in Mexico during 2014 went up by 4 percent, mainly driven by a sales increase in bottled water.
The implementation of the tax on sugar-sweetened drinks was one way the Mexican congress has tried to curb the nation’s alarming prevalence rates for diabetes and obesity, which are among the highest in the world.
“Concomitant with the rise in obesity and diabetes in Mexico are large increases in the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages – Mexico had the largest per capita (163 liters) intake of soft drinks in 2011,” according to the report. “Several studies showed that before the debate over this tax the intake of sugar sweetened beverages was rapidly increasing in Mexico. Reducing such consumption has been an important target for obesity and diabetes prevention.”
Scientific research has shown that added sugars are a significant contributor to heart disease and that sweetened drinks are a top source of sugar for many people.
Within the United States, sugary drinks have become a common part of the American diet through the consumption of popular sports and fruit-flavored drinks, as well as traditional soda.
Last spring, Berkeley, California, enacted a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks similar to the one implemented in Mexico.
Johnson noted it was too soon to see what kind of impact that levy is having on the purchase and consumption of such sweetened beverages.
“Policy makers from numerous cities and states across the U.S. are considering excise taxes on sugary drinks,” she said. The Mexican study can help, since it “is the first to conclusively show that implementing such a tax can significantly decrease purchases of unhealthy drinks.”