Soda Sales Down in Mexico – Now What?

Authors of a new study published in PLOS ONE report that soda sales were down in Mexico for the first year after an 8% tax on soda and other junk foods went into effect. The decline was especially steep in households with low socioeconomic status (SES).

Overall, households cut their consumption of junk foods and sugar-sweetened beverages by 5%. Low SES households dropped their purchases by 10%. The notion of sticking it to the soda man seems satisfying to folks like Jason Best. He writes in TakePart that “big food” wants to confuse the issue of obesity by describing it as complex. Conceding that taxes alone won’t solve it, he says:

They can work as part of a more comprehensive campaign that includes initiatives to encourage more exercise and to educate the public about healthier eating habits – initiatives that can be funded by money raised from taxing unhealthy foods and sugary drinks. How sweet is that?

Actually, it might not be such a sweet solution. Folks in the U.S. (like CDC) have been pouring money into campaigns to educate the public about diet and exercise for a couple of decades now. Obesity rates are unfazed by these campaigns. The latest statistics show that 40% of American women have obesity, setting a new record.

The authors of the PLOS ONE study were a bit more realistic, concluding that:

The impact of this tax on overall energy intake, dietary quality, and food purchase patterns, as well as how these changes relate to weight status, remains to be studied.

The big picture on obesity, unfortunately, is indeed very complex. A short-term drop in junk food and soda sales is probably not a long-term solution. More recent reports show that sticker shock from the taxes may be wearing off in Mexico. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are finding ways to adapt. So, too, are consumers.

We are likely to learn that the demand for junk food is just as much a symptom of obesity as it is a cause. Treating the symptoms of a chronic disease seldom cures the disease.

Though folks like Mr. Best don’t want to hear it, we are unlikely to solve the problem of obesity until our understanding of obesity grows beyond simplistic models of diet and exercise.

Click here to read the study in PLOS ONE, here to read more from TakePart, and here to read more from Reuters.

Jarritos, photograph © Jeremy Brooks / flickr

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August 1, 2016

One Response to “Soda Sales Down in Mexico – Now What?”

  1. August 01, 2016 at 10:47 am, Stephen Phillips said:

    In an effort to prevent continued increases in obesity and diabetes,the Mexican government has created a “sugar wall” by placing high taxes on non-essential sugar sweetened products.
    Early studies show a significant decrease in sales of theses products.
    Will this policy experiment translate into decreases in diabesity…..?
    This is a public health policy that many Americans have advocated for…..perhaps Mexico’s efforts will greatly contribute to building a US ….. ” sugar wall.”

    Stephen Phillips
    Academic Association of Bariatric Counselors