More results are in on the Mexican soda tax — and they’re striking

Remember that Mexican soda tax I told you about a couple months ago? The one that was poised to cut soda consumption significantly while also generating revenue for the country?

Well the results are in from the second year of the tax, and they’re a thorn in the side of all those doubters and naysayers — and especially to the makers of these death drinks. The 10 percent tax, which took effect in 2014, has cut sugar-sweetened drink consumption by an average of 7.6 percent.

Even more impressive is the fact that the effects are actually increasing over time. In the first year of the tax, consumption dropped 5.5 percent. In the second year, that figure rose to 9.7 percent. In short, it’s been a huge success so far, and all signs point to more success ahead.

This, of course, flies in the face of the soda industry’s fear mongering about the change. They warned that even if there was an effect in year one, it would start to taper quickly. But just the opposite is happening. People are changing their habits and life is moving on…without sugar-sweetened drinks.

Can you imagine all the good work a simple tax could do to help stem the tide of the diabetes and obesity epidemics in this country?

Wouldn’t it have been amazing if ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had been able to pull this off in New York City a couple years back? He tried, but his attempts were shot down. Not enacting that tax was irresponsible at best, criminal at worst. And not just from a public health standpoint, but also a financial one.

So much of our tax money is being spent on treating people who eat and drink themselves into diseases we know can be avoided. Why wouldn’t we want to disincentivize the choices that lead to these chronic conditions — and the expensive treatments that go along with them?

Instead, we’re doing the opposite. We’re allowing the sugar-sweetened beverage industry to keep its prices artificially low and partake in deceptive marketing practices. What do we expect will happen? The only reason they’re able to keep the prices so low is that our government subsidizes the production of sugar — a known carcinogen,

Imagine it this way: What would happen if our government funded the production of tobacco? People would be in an uproar. Yet they get a pass for doing the equivalent, by underwriting the sugar industry.

We know without a doubt that sugar is responsible for at least 11 different types of cancer. It’s also the source of some of this nation’s most pressing and devastating health crises (obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, just to name a few). And our tax dollars are supporting it…then supporting the people who get sick from consuming it.

Instead, we should be following in Mexico’s footsteps, which acted in spite of strong industry opposition. As a government should when it realizes its citizens are at risk because of industry practices. The prevalence of overweight and obesity in Mexico had soared to 70 percent in adults and 30 percent in children before this tax took effect.

The numbers are staggering, but they’re not much different than American figures.

The Mexican government looked for low-hanging fruit in halting the crisis, and an obvious target was sugar-sweetened beverages, which account for 70 percent of all added sugars in the Mexican diet.

So they imposed a tax on the beverages at the heart of the problem, and the results have been nothing short of amazing. It won’t be long before we see stats about how the tax is affecting health. Researchers predict that it will prevent nearly 200,000 cases of diabetes and almost 20,000 deaths, over 10 years. And at the same time, it will save Mexicans a total of almost 1 billion dollars.

Other countries are taking notice. Colombia, Finland, France, South Africa, and the United Kingdom all have or are considering a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Some U.S. municipalities are taking action too, including places in California, Colorado, and Illinois.

Some Australian researchers have taken it a bit further, suggesting taxing sugary drinks and salty and fatty foods while subsidizing fruit and vegetables. I’m going to address that proposal in a future RHC, because while its intentions are good, it falls short.

Still, you’ve got to start somewhere, and kudos to the Australians for at least trying. And to the Mexicans for making it happen.