Sugary Drink Purchases Drop 7.6% 2 Years Into Mexico's Tax

Marcia Frellick

February 28, 2017

In the first 2 years of Mexico's tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, consumption of such taxed beverages dropped an average 7.6%, researchers have found.

Consumption dropped 5.5% in 2014 and 9.7% in 2015, contradicting claims by industry that the effect of the tax declined after the first year, according to a new study by M Arantxa Cochero, associate professor of health economics at the Center for Health Systems Research at the National Institute of Public Health in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and colleagues.

The study was published online February 22 in Health Affairs.

Poorer households had the largest decrease in consumption of taxed beverages: 9% in 2014 and 14.3% in 2015. Taxed drinks include carbonated and noncarbonated sugar-sweetened beverages and powders in their reconstituted form.

Meanwhile, purchases of untaxed beverages (juices, diet soft drinks, unsweetened waters, dairy and dairy substitutes) increased 2.1% during the study period.

Study Data

The authors used store purchase data from Nielsen's Mexico Consumer Panel Services for 6645 Mexican households from January 2012 to December 2015 to compare numbers before and after the tax was introduced. The households were in 53 cities, whose populations ranged from 50,000 to 8.9 million.

Changes in purchases of taxed and untaxed drinks were estimated with two models that compared 2014 and 2015 purchases with predicted purchases based on patterns from 2012–2013.

Mexico imposed the 1 peso per liter (10%) excise tax in 2014 amid strong opposition by industry after the prevalence of overweight and obese people in the country had reached 70% of adults and 30% of children in 2012.

The taxed beverages account for 70% of the sugars added to the Mexican diet, the authors note.

As previously reported by Medscape Medical News, researchers have calculated that the tax could lead to nearly 200,000 fewer cases of diabetes and almost 20,000 fewer deaths, as well as cost savings of almost 1 billion international dollars over 10 years.

Several other countries tax sugary beverages or have proposed a tax, including Colombia, Finland, France, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, as well as some localities in the United States, including the Californian cities of Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco; Boulder, Colorado; and Cook County, Illinois.

But evidence of how that has affected consumption is lacking, the authors write.

However, the results in this study are similar to findings from a recent analysis of sales data from the Encuesta Mensual de la Industrial Manufacturera (Monthly Surveys of the Manufacturing Industry), which found a 7.3% drop in sales of sugary beverages in Mexico 2 years after the tax began, compared with sales from 2007–2013, the authors write.

These new findings from Mexico, they say, "may encourage other countries to use fiscal policies to reduce the consumption of unhealthy beverages along with other interventions to reduce the burden of chronic diseases."

Researchers in Australia have recently proposed the introduction of a combination of taxes — for example, on sugary drinks and salty and fatty foods combined — together with subsidies on fruit and vegetables to try to combat obesity and related diseases.

The Mexican authors acknowledge some limitations of their study, including the fact that it does not prove that the tax caused the fall in consumption. It's possible, for example, that the realization of the negative health effects of sugary beverages through other marketing efforts and global recommendations played a role.

Future analysis of a 2016 national nutrition survey in Mexico will provide more answers on the long-term effects of the tax, including shifts in dietary patterns, they conclude.

Funding came primarily from Bloomberg Philanthropies in grants to the University of North Carolina and to the Mexican National Institute of Public Health, with additional support from the National Institutes of Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina. The funders had no direct role in the study design, analysis, or manuscript preparation. Ms Cochero reports no relevant financial relationships; disclosures for the coauthors are listed in the paper.

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Health Aff. Published online February 22, 2017. Abstract

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