¡Buen provecho! Eat right and pay more
On the first of the year, the price of “junk food” will be going up substantially here in Mexico… an eight percent surcharge on foods high in fat, sugar, or sodium and an extra peso per liter on soft drinks. One justification for the tax has been the alarming rise in obesity and diabetes among children.
... the government has taken the long view – that the potential economic harm from reduced junk food and soft drink sales now is insignificant compared with the damage in 10 years time if obesity continues at the current rate. The healthcare burden of diabetes and heart disease in Mexico is already huge and increasing. Some 9.2% of children in Mexico now have diabetes.
With the funds raised THEORETICALLY going to public health, it looks promising that the national institute of pediatrics (IPN for its initials in Spanish) has developed Latin America’s first “virtual nutrition training center”… to retrain the country’s pediatricians and general practitioners in nutrition. One issue of concern is that premature babies and babies with life-threatening illnesses are often overfed simply to keep their weight up, but setting them up for future problems with obesity.
Whether any of this will bring down the alarming obesity rate (about a third of children are obese) and will, in the long range, save money and improve public health is yet to be seen. As in wealthier nations, the rich have the resources to eat right, and the rest of us — especially in urban areas — are often limited in our food selection to what is available in local markets. The traditional city markets still carry a large selection of fruits and vegetables, but with changing work requirements and housing patterns, do not serve nearly the percentage of the population that they did even ten years ago.
Honestly, I think the problem is one more of supply than demand. While the higher taxes on unhealthy food may lower demand (or may just mean people have less to spend on food that at least stave off hunger pangs), the problem is not so much what they want to buy, as what is available to buy.
With chain stores driving out the neighborhood abarrotes many are limited to purchasing in smaller chain stores… where the selection is extremely limited. My local OXXO sells no canned or packaged vegetables other than refried beans and chiles, and only a few few onions and tomatoes of dubious freshness, and sometimes bananas and/or apples… which is obscene in a fruit and vegetable exporting country. Even the local mom-n-pop is unlikely to have much more than onions, cabbage, tomatoes, chiles, and usually criollo calabasa (summer squash) … and, if we’re lucky, a few wilted heads of lettuce or a sad looking broccoli and some questionable potatoes. At least they carry some canned vegetables and dried beans.
Perhaps if the tax funds were also used to help farmers bring fruit and produce into the cities, and to ease up credit for the independent grocers, more “real” food would show up in the markets, and we wouldn’t be paying for junk…
sources: Sarah Boseley, “Mexico to tackle obesity with taxes on junk food and sugary drinks” (The Guardian, 1 November 2013)
“Mexico launches LatAm’s first virtual nutrition training center” (EFE, via Global Post, 20 December 2013)-
Oxxo, Ya! Escobosa, Soriana, Mercado Pino Suarez.