Mexican sugar tax: second annual decline in sugary drinks sales

24 Feb 17

Mexico’s sugar tax has reduced consumption of sugary drinks for the second year in a row, knocking industry claims that the tax would lose its effect after the first year.


A study published earlier this week in the journal Health Affairs found that purchases of taxed sugary drinks fell by a further 4.2% in 2015 – the second year of implementation – after declining by 9.7% in the year prior.

The study’s authors, Arantxa Cochero, Juan Rivera-Dommarco, Barry Popkin and Shu Wen Ng concluded that their findings may encourage other governments around the world to apply fiscal policy to the public health challenges they face.

According to the OECD, more than 70% of adults in Mexico are overweight, while 32% are obese. Among children, the country has the highest overweight rates in the OECD, with one and three children affected.

Such factors also give Mexico one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world, at 15.8% in 2015. However this is still dwarfed by the rate in countries like Saudi Arabia (20%) or the small pacific island state of Nauru (24.1%).

More than 70% of the added sugar in Mexicans’ diets comes from sugar-sweetened drinks, with brands like Coca-Cola particularly popular.

The government introduced a 1 peso per litre tax (worth around 10%) on these beverages at the start of 2014 in order to tackle this.

Health experts and observers around the world have been keenly watching Mexico’s experiment to see if it yields results. Meanwhile, a number of other countries, such as the UK, have followed suit or launched their own pilots.

While it is still too early to tell if the tax has had an impact on health, the study identified an average decline in purchases of sugary drinks of 7.6% each year, with the biggest decreases among the lowest-income households – a group also most susceptible to being overweight and the related illnesses.

This contradicts statements from companies that suggest their sales were only declining modestly in 2015 and that the impact of the tax was waning.

While the World Health Organisation advocates a 20% tax on sugary drinks, pilots of taxes in places like Denmark and California have failed to yield the same results seen in Mexico. The US maintains that other methods, such as marketing strategies, have proved more effective.

Some argue that for fiscal policy measures to be effective, other efforts also need to be introduced to complement it, nudging people in the direction of healthier alternatives. 

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