Taxes on beverages have been rejected in cities and states across America more than 30 times. Now the pro-tax movement has decamped to Mexico, and is trying to make claims about forced higher prices that fall flat.
Time magazine ran a piece this week headlined, “Mexicans Begin to Slim With the Help of the Soda Tax.” Really? If a tax is slimming down people in Mexico Time provides zero evidence of it.
The reason is that Time, like many journalism outlets, did not stop to think that raising prices on something does not improve public health. The magazine quotes Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition and diet at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who once claimed “[taxation] is the most effective way to change behavior.”
But did it in Mexico? Popkin has provided no evidence of it. Neither did Time.
Popkin does claim that Mexico’s implementation of a 1 peso per liter tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and a 5 percent tax on snack foods resulted in a reduction in consumption. Maybe, maybe not. But that does not mean people are getting thinner.
Jack Winkler, member of UK Action on Sugar, says that Mexico research to date has failed to prove the tax is successful: “Four studies, all incomplete and by interested parties, have produced different results.”
This should be no surprise to these veteran researchers, as studies in Europe show that when taxes are levied on foods or beverages, people tend to switch to lower cost brands or turn to other foods and beverages that have just as many if not more calories than the taxed items. And of course, in America, states with no beverage tax have some of the lowest obesity rates, and states that have a beverage tax on the books have some of the highest rates of obesity.
The best way to encourage changes in behavior is education on leading a balanced lifestyle. Our industry is helping to support neighborhood programs that teach good diet techniques, through the U.S. Conference of Mayors Childhood Obesity Prevention Awards. We have worked with First Lady Michele Obama’s on her “Let’s Move!” campaign, and her “Drink Up” campaign to encourage more water consumption. We are working with the Clinton Global Initiative on the Balance Calories Initiative, in which three major beverage companies are working to reduce beverage calories consumed per person nationally by 20 percent by 2025. Working together works. Taxing does not.