ANN ARBOR—The current 10 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Mexico should reduce obesity in the country by 2.5 percent by 2024 and prevent up to 134,000 new cases of diabetes by 2030, according to a new study co-led by researchers at the University of Michigan.
Using sophisticated mathematical models, researchers from the U-M School of Public Health and the Mexico National Institute of Public Health were able to make the projections by using information on consumption—which has decreased by 6.1 percent since the 2014 tax was implemented—and characteristics of the adult population, including age and body weight.
The researchers also determined that if the tax were to be raised to 20 percent, as recommended by health advocates, the impact would more than double—leading to a 6.8 percent reduction in obesity and to 171,000 to 267,000 fewer new diabetes cases.
"Our models show that the decision to impose the tax will lead to considerable reductions in obesity and diabetes, but also how much is being missed for not going for a larger tax," said Rafael Meza, assistant professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health. "The models are based on the best available information and thus provide guidance to help policymakers assess their potential impact of their decisions."
Mexico is one of the countries more heavily affected by obesity and diabetes. According to the latest figures, 34 percent of the population in Mexico is obese and 9.2 percent have been diagnosed with diabetes.
The country is also a major consumer of sugary drinks, a known risk factor for obesity and diabetes. Up to 10 percent of all calories consumed by Mexican children and adults come from sugary drinks.
"Obesity and diabetes are affecting a very large proportion of people in Mexico. The last year, the health ministry labeled them 'epidemiological emergencies,' a label that we had only used for infectious and severe public health threats, such as cholera," said Tonatiuh Barrientos Gutierrez, director of reproductive health at the National Institute of Public Health and former postdoctoral researcher at the U-M School of Public Health.
"If we really want to change the obesity and diabetes epidemic, we need to think bold and change the rules of the game. Sugary drinks provide no nutritional benefits, and scientific evidence about their negative health effects has been mounting."
Young adults are the main consumers of sugary drinks, so the tax should benefit them most, helping them to reduce more body weight than other groups, the researchers say. Reducing obesity early in life provides larger health benefits.
The study also found that the tax provides weight reductions for all socioeconomic groups. However, people with lower socioeconomic status should experience larger health benefits, the researchers say.