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Mexico plans to tackle obesity with sin taxes

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Breanna Deutsch Contributor
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A bag of chips in Mexico is about to cost you a few more pesos.

On Thursday, Mexican lawmakers passed a five-percent sin tax on packaged foods that contain 275 calories or more per 100 grams in an effort to curb the country’s obesity and diabetes epidemic, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The Latin American country also plans to pass a tax, similar to the one proposed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that would levy one peso (eight U.S. cents) on sugary soft drinks.

Bloomberg’s effort to change NYC residents’ eating habits have earned him the title as the country’s nanny-in-chief, but academics say Mexico’s proposed taxes are about to take social engineering to a whole new level.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said, “This appears to be the most aggressive strategy anywhere in the world in recent years to improve diets via tax disincentives.”

Politicians’ efforts to dissuade Mexicans from eating sugary and salty foods, comes after the announcement earlier this year that Mexico surpassed America as the world’s most obese country.

A third of all Mexico’s children and 70 percent of the total population are either obese or overweight. All of the extra fat has taken a toll on Mexico’s physical and financial health. Nearly 15 percent of all Mexicans over the age of 20 have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. This is the highest rate out of all countries with 100 million or more inhabitants. Diabetes and other obesity-related diseases have cost the Mexican public health system more than $3 billion a year.

José Antonio Álvarez Lima, a former state governor, said “We’re a country of malnourished fatsos.” He told a Mexican political newspaper that TV advertisements were partially to blame for Mexico’s growing consumption of junk food.

But this new legislation does not come without skepticism and decent.

Some Mexican residents do not believe the taxes will curve the country’s appetite for high calorie foods.

One Mexican street vendor, Héctor Ortega, said that the taxes will not have a long-term impact on Mexicans’ diets.

“Just like the cigarettes, people will go back to their old habits,” he said. He noted that although junk food was not overly nutritious, it is all some people can afford, “This is a restaurant zone and the food here is expensive. For some people, these products are the only food available.”

The levies could also have an impact on processed food companies, which make up 4.1 percent of the nation’s GDP. Concamin president Francisco Funtanet predicted that the taxes may force companies to cut back on personal and investments, telling the WSJ that “We can’t allow last-minute taxes.”

Raul Picard, also with Concamin, warned that vice taxes could lead to the selling of contraband goods of unknown origins, which could pose a threat to the public’s health.

Another leader in Mexico food manufacturing industry, Felipe Gómez, said “There’s no such thing as junk food, just junk diets,” arguing that even processed foods have calories that the body needs.

Mexican lawmakers also supported a 10 percent capital gains tax and raised the maximum income tax rate from 30 percent to 35 percent for people earning over three million pesos ($235,000) a year.

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