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Mexico's Junk Food Tax Is Working, Says Study

There’s been an impact in poor and middle-income households

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

So-called sin taxes on fast food or junk food are a frequent source of political debate, from New York to San Francisco. If and when approved, their efficacy is often studied. In a potential boon for proponents of such taxes is Mexico's latest example. A tax implemented on high-calorie snacks in Mexico has been having the desired effect, however marginal. In 2014, Mexico instituted an 8 percent tax on processed foods that had more than 275 calories per 100 grams, in an attempt to reduce junk food purchases, the Associated Press reported.

A recent report indicates there was a 5.1 percent decrease in purchases of the taxed items, and that this decrease showed up predominantly in poor and middle-class households. There was no impact shown for higher-income households. The percentage of obesity in Mexico is high, with nearly a third of adults meeting the upper threshold. 70 percent of the population is overweight, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The country has surpassed the U.S. on obesity.

The people behind the study — researchers at the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico and UNC Chapel Hill — suggested that future studies should consider the connection between purchasing decisions and any changes to overall quality of nutrition in peoples’ diets.

The concept of taxing junk food is not new. In 2014, Berkeley, CA became the first US city to tax soda, and Philadelphia followed, instituting a soda tax this June.