Soda Down in Mexico, Obesity Not So Much
Mexico is something of a poster child for using taxes to drive down soda sales and fight obesity. A 10% tax on sugary drinks began nationwide there in 2014. After three years of the tax, soda consumption appears to be down, but obesity is still climbing.
New results from Mexico’s 2016 National Health and Nutrition Survey show that overweight and obesity now affect 72.5% of Mexican adults. That number is up from 71.2% in 2012. Mexico’s deputy health minister, Pablo Kuri, offered a positive interpretation:
There is a very slight increase but it’s not statistically significant. In a way, the phenomenon of overweight people and obesity has stabilized.
Overweight and obesity also increased among children overall, though younger children showed a slight drop. Diabetes prevalence rose slightly, from 9.2% in 2012 to 9.4% in 2016.
This is a bit of a problem for the effort to sell soda taxes around the world. Models keep cranking out fantastic estimates of health benefits for soda taxes. Back in November, PLOS Medicine published an estimate that those taxes would save 18,900 lives and $983 million dollars in Mexico.
A more sober assessment comes from Susan Jebb, who is advocating for a tax on sugary soft drinks in the UK. She says:
On its own a soft drinks levy cannot solve the obesity crisis, but we should not underestimate the importance of this step, both for the UK and as a case study for other parts of the world. Then, once this bill is passed, we need to consider how to take effective action to reduce other sources of sugar in children’s diets, notably confectionery, which has so far been relatively overlooked while hearts and minds have been focused on the soft drinks levy.
She might be right, but we’ve got nothing but speculation on taxing confections.
Models are very useful tools for developing estimates of what might happen. Much of the thinking about taxing sugar is based on modeling. At some point, all that modeling data will give way to data about what actually does happen in the real world. So far, those results are not looking good in Mexico.
We need more evidence-based policy and less policy-based evidence.
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December 16, 2016