Mexico Confronts Obesity Issue with New Soda Tax, Junk Food Tax

Mexico, recently famed in headlines for an obesity epidemic, made history this past month by imposing a tax in the upcoming year on soda and junk foods. 

The new tax in Mexico, scheduled for 2014, will bring a national tax of one peso per liter—roughly 10 percent—on sugar-sweetened beverages and 8 percent on junk food, according to a New York Times op-ed piece.

Countries such as Finland, Hungary and France have already passed similar legislation aimed at public health. Even Britain’s Conservative-led coalition has considered such a tax.

The Mexican soda tax, which is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, will apply to all foods with added sugar, not including dairy products such as milk or yogurt. The junk food tax will be on high-calorie foods that have 275 calories or more into 100 grams of food like chips, candies, pudding, peanut and hazelnut butters, milk, sugary cereals and ice cream.

Federal regulators in the country have also announced their intention to issue rules to regulate television advertising of junk food products, fried foods and other unhealthy options from appearing at certain times of the day when a larger number of children might be watching.

Earlier this past month, there was talk about Mexican Coke losing its much-appreciated key ingredient, cane sugar, and it being replaced with old-fashioned corn syrup.

Social media sites experienced a stir of people who were angry and saddened by the rumors. Some people even claimed that they would soon begin hoarding cases of Mexican Coke before their beloved soda was no longer the same.

But Arca Continential, the Mexican Coke bottler, clarified and said changes to how the soda would be sweetened would only occur to soda sold in Mexico because of the soda tax that will soon be active.

It’s been my experience that Mexicans are big soda drinkers. Just about every Mexican restaurant/café/bakery/establishment that serves food I’ve been in sells soda.

Mexicans drink an average of about 707 8-ounce servings—roughly 44 gallons—of soda per year, according to Beverage Digest. Trailing not too far behind are Americans who consume about 701 servings of soda.

Like some people, I think this is a good step for Mexico and perhaps more countries—like the United States—should follow.

I live in Pilsen, where a majority of residents are Mexican or of Mexican descent, and I’ve lost count of all the bakeries, ice cream shops, candy stores and taco shops I see on a regular basis. Don’t get me wrong, I love having these options and sense of Mexican culture so close to me, as do many of the surrounding residents I’m sure, but it does concern me how few healthy options there are in the neighborhood.

There’s an all-natural juice bar at the Pink Link Damen stop, and I’ve been told there’s a woman who sells organic food at her shop on 18th Street. There are also two health clubs on Cermak Road—that I know of—where people can meet twice a day to consume Herbalife teas and shakes in place of a meal if they desire. But compared to all the other not-so-healthy options, these places can easily be camouflaged in the neighborhood.

As Mexico begins to address the importance of health and fighting obesity, I wonder if Mexican immigrant communities in Chicago—such as Pilsen, Little Village, Albany Park, the Back of the Yards—will take steps in the same direction?