How one of the most obese countries on earth took on the soda giants
As debate rages about whether to introduce a sugar tax, this is the story of how Mexico defied its own powerful fizzy drinks industry to impose a tax on soda
‘Coca-Cola controls 73% of the Mexican fizzy drinks market, compared with only 42% in the US.’ Photograph: Alamy
Tuesday 3 November 2015 17.00 AEDT
Last modified on Wednesday 4 November 2015 04.09 AEDT
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Mexicans love their soda. Construction workers go to their jobs in the early morning clutching giant two-litre or even three-litre bottles. Babies in strollers suck on bottles filled with orange soda. In the highlands of Chiapas, Coca-Cola is considered to have magical powers and is used in religious rites.
Mexican soda tax cuts sales of sugary soft drinks by 6% in first year
In fact, Mexicans drink more soda than nearly anyone else in the world; their top three daily sources of calories in 2012 were all high-calorie drinks. Mexico also has by far the world’s highest death rate from chronic diseases caused by consumption of sugary drinks – nearly triple that of the runner-up, South Africa. In other words, excessive consumption of soda kills twice as many Mexicans as trade in the other kind of coke that Mexico is famous for.
But Mexico also loves the soda industry. Vicente Fox, who in 2000 became the country’s first democratically elected president, had earlier been president of Coca-Cola Mexico and then head of the company’s Latin American operations. The symbolism was noteworthy: soda companies – particularly Coke, which controls 73% of the Mexican market (compared with only 42% in the US) – have amassed extraordinary influence over health policy in Mexico.
The consequences of this became apparent in 2006, when the release of Mexico’s National Survey of Health and Nutrition revealed that diabetes – the country’s leading cause of death – had doubled since 2000. Between 1999 and 2006, the average waist size among women of childbearing age increased by nearly 11cm. And during the same period, obesity among children aged five to 11 rose by 40%. No other country in the world had experienced a rise in obesity of that magnitude – Mexico was on its way to becoming the fattest major country.