A new soda tax in Mexico could save more than 18,000 lives and a billion dollars in the next decade

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We live in a world where bubbly sugar water is a massive global industry. And excess sugar is terrible for the human body. So it’s not surprising that policy programs to reduce soda consumption would save lives.

But it is surprising just how effective they can be.

A new study published in PLUS Medicine Monday suggests that a tax on soda that began in 2014 in Mexico could save 18,900 lives and between $769 million and $1.173 billion dollars in its first decade. The authors also project 189,300 fewer diabetes cases and 20,400 fewer strokes and heart attacks in a country with among the worst obesity epidemics in the world.

The data is based on a model of health outcomes for populations that drew on information from Mexican and US public health research.

Its reported results assume a 10% national drop in soda consumption from the one-peso-per-litre tax, and that former soda drinkers will replace 39% of their soda calories with other foods. That assumption falls broadly in line with early results from the first years of the national experiment. The New York Times reported in January that sugary beverage sales fell 12% after one year of the tax.

There’s reason for caution however. Somewhat more recently, The Wall Street Journal reported in May that Mexican soda sales had begun to tick upward after the long drop. It’s still too early to say whether the plan to fight sugar with this key weapon in the policy fight against tobacco will succeed.

Mexico’s success or failure in using a tax to curb its citizens’ sugar water habit will have impacts beyond its borders.

The effort was pushed in part by former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who has made several prominent efforts to combat soda consumption in the past.

If Mexico in 2024 is healthier, wealthier, and less obese due to less sugar consumption, it will become a strong example for other nations looking to make public health improvements in their own country.

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