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Mexican junk food tax may be a helpful ally in fighting obesity in America

Mexico has recently implemented a junk food tax, which aims to persuade citizens to make healthier food and drink choices.

Mexico, which recently (but just barely) overtook the United States as the fattest country in the world, clocks in at 70% overweight, and a little more than a third of the population is obese, the same as in the U.S.

A notable difference, though, is that the average Mexican drinks around 43 gallons of soda a year, which is 40 percent more than the average American. To discourage this overconsumption, the Mexican senate approved a one-peso (about 7.5 cents) tax on every liter of soft drinks, in addition to an 8 percent tax on high-calorie foods. According to the legislation, the food specifically targeted is that which, “is high in calories such as fried foods… sweets, foods made mainly with cereal, among others.”

Former mayor of New York and self-appointed food police Michael Bloomberg put a substantial amount of funding toward Mexico’s tax plan. It’s predicted that even a small amount of success, such as the 5 percent decrease in consumption that’s projected, may make similar action more attractive to U.S. legislators.

This seems like a clever idea to mutually benefit citizens and government, but it’s an idea that has failed in 30 U.S. cities and states. According to Chris Gindlesperger of the American Beverage Association this is because, “Overall, Americans don’t support taxes, bans or other restrictions on what to eat and drink.”

Fair enough, the land of the free isn’t open to having basic, personal, everyday choices like food and drink altered. So there needs to be a viable solution to this pox on the collective health of Americans.

The Clinton Foundation has the right idea about impressing the importance of healthy decisions early in life. According to its mission statement, it  has reduced the amount of beverage calories going into schools by 90 percent. It is said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this is especially true in terms of barring children from becoming accustomed to overly sugary drinks in large portions.

If these things are made unavailable to them now, the younger generations won’t know what they’re missing, and hence are less likely to crave junk food in adulthood.

However, older people with established habits who were raised on sugar won’t have such an easy time giving it up. If Americans won’t relinquish higher calorie options voluntarily, and they don’t want the choice to be made for them, their options become limited.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has petitioned the FDA to limit added sugars in beverages. The petition, which includes lots of shocking facts depicted in handy infographics, explains that the American Heart Association recommends women consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day, and men no more than nine. Compare that to the 15 teaspoons of added sugar found in a 20-ounce Coke, and you can see where the issue lies.

A huge part of the problem is that something so obscenely big and sweet as a 20-ounce coke has become completely normal throughout time. In the early days of Coca-Cola, at the beginning of the Great Depression, a bottled Coke was six ounces. As these unhealthy consumables increase in size, so do Americans.

Though perhaps such action wouldn’t be the best fit for the U.S., the prognosis of Mexico’s tax hike is an optimistic one. Should they find the results they seek, their nation will benefit massively, while hopefully showing their neighbors just how it’s done.

Opinion columnist Katie Wian is an English junior and may be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

  • In addition to our statement, which makes clear that a majority of Americans oppose such taxes and restrictions, targeting soda with a tax won’t reduce obesity by any measurable amount. In fact, real life examples speak to this point and studies show soda taxes could actually trigger increased calorie consumption from other sources: http://bit.ly/mmmpt. Does this sound like a recipe for good health? Absolutely not.

    The notion that singling out any one food, beverage or ingredient will reduce complex health conditions like obesity is naïve in the first place. Why? Because science clearly shows obesity results from a complex interplay of environmental, social, economic and behavioral factors acting on a background of genetic susceptibility. While we can’t control things like genetics and age, we can certainly make a difference by balancing overall diet with physical activity. How do we help people adopt healthier habits and strike this balance? We believe education, not regulation, can help teach these holistic, big picture changes that can make a substantive and positive difference on health. Imposing dietary restrictions as a means to this end is simply not the answer.

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