Mexico Taxes Soda to Combat Obesity

popA food earthquake just hit south of the border. Mexico has successfully passed legislation placing an 8 percent sales tax on sugary soft drinks in response to their obesity epidemic. This is a significant public policy threat to the revenues of industrial beverage companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola. It also raises public policy questions for the U.S. as it struggles with its own national epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

Health care costs expand with waistlines

Mexico and the United States are two of the world’s fattest countries. In the U.S. 31.8 percent of adults are classified as obese. In Mexico, it is 32.8 percent.

Heightened obesity levels increase human suffering. Obesity is linked to type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension and arthritis. Today, 25 million Americans have type 2 diabetes. 27 million have chronic heart disease. 68 million have hypertension and 50 million have arthritis.

Heightened obesity levels also place a heavy cost burden upon our national economy and family budgets. In the U.S., the cost of treating obesity-related diseases is $48 billion. The Harvard School of Public Health estimates that the added costs of lost work days, increased medical insurance rates and lost wages results in a $190 billion cost impact upon our national economy.

Increased sodas sales drive obesity rates higher

The consumption of just one can of soda is not going to make a person obese or cause diabetes. It is the volume of soda being consumed by Americans and Mexicans that is threatening human health. According to the national Soft Drink Association, the average adult in the U.S. consumes 600 12-ounce servings of soda per year. Mexico is the world’s largest consumer of soft drinks. The average Mexican drinks a stunning 46 gallons of soda per year! Coca-Cola’s own estimates are that the average Mexican consumes 650 cans of soda per year.

Research points to increased soda consumption driving obesity rates higher in both Mexico and the United States. The rate of increased soda consumption and the increase in obesity rates have risen together.

Soda plus junk food are threatening our children’s health

Soda and fast food companies view their products as benign to human health because a “calorie is a calorie.” Research say this is not the case. A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that top sources of energy for 2 to 18-year-olds were grain desserts, pizza and sugar sweetened beverages. This study went on to identify that half of the “empty calories” in our children’s diet comes from just six foods: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza and whole milk. Illogically, government policy continues to support the food industry’s promotion of increased junk food and soda consumption by our sons and daughters that over the long term will increase their exposure to obesity-related diseases.

Marketing, advertising and volume price incentives drive obesity rates higher

I attended a national marketing conference where the Coca-Cola company’s confused ethics were brought to my attention. At this conference, a Coca-Cola marketing manager presented his success in growing Diet Coke sales through a promotional campaign focused upon the erosion of polar bear habitat due to climate change. This Diet Coke marketing campaign was a Hollywood-quality media outreach that successfully engaged youth and the millennial generation on their heightened focus of environmental issues. Proudly, this marketing manager reported that this campaign drove the sale of Diet Coke to record results. This case study left me with these impressions:

  • Polar bears gained needed publicity on their loss of habitat
  • Nothing really happened that enhanced the survival rate of polar bears
  • The Coca-Cola company grew their revenues
  • A marketing team may have gotten a financial raise
  • The health risk to U.S. citizens, especially our children, from drinking “empty calories” was increased

Will Mexico’s sales tax on soda reduce obesity?

The public policy question of Mexico’s 8 percent tax on soda is whether it will result in reduced sugar consumption, resulting in the reduction of obesity. Raising the price of a product through a tax will reduce its purchase if these three key conditions are met:

  1. Consumer incomes do not increase to levels that economically compensate for the demand suppressing tax
  2. There are viable and cost-attractive product substitutes to the product being taxed
  3. The product tax is significantly high enough to create a new “cultural norm” away from purchasing the taxed product

The challenge for Mexico is that soda fills a consumer void in clean water supplies. Soda has also become a cultural norm promoted by millions of dollars in annual advertising that links soda to the aspirations and values of consumers. And the income of Mexicans are increasing and this income increase can blunt or eliminate the demand-suppressing impacts of a tax upon soda.

Public policy that can reduce obesity

The current U.S. public policy of increasing consumer awareness of the health risks tied to high levels of soda consumption is at best slowing the rate of soda consumption. Encouragingly, at least half of U.S. moms say they are reducing their family’s consumption of soda.

Cigarette regulations provide an example of public policy that will meaningfully reduce soda consumption levels and its human health impacts. The public policy tools used to reduce the rate of cigarette consumption were:

  • Significantly higher product taxes
  • Advertising restrictions, especially toward children
  • Very visible and frank package labeling that links consumption to adverse health risks
  • Regulation of adult consumption behaviors
  • Sales prohibition to minors

Applying similar rules and regulations to soda sales will reshape the current cultural norm of soda drink dispensers that offer unlimited refills and “super size me” portions. Without this level of public policy, it is highly unlikely that the U.S. will achieve affordable health care insurance or significant reductions in the human suffering created from the marketing of obesity-linked diets.

Bill Roth is an economist and the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017

[image credit: Vox Efx: Flickr cc]


Allergies, asthma in kids linked to junk food: extensive study

An extensive study that included data from some 500,000 children, in 51 countries, resulted in a strong statistical link between eating more fast food and a 39 percent higher prevalence of asthma in teenagers. Children of the ages 6 and 7 who were in the highest fast food intake category of three or more servings per week were found to have a 27 percent increased risk by the vast study published in the medical journal Thorax on January 14.

Researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand found that those who ate more than three servings of foods such as burgers, fries and pizza a week had more severe allergic disease symptoms like wheezing (Asthma), runny nose and watery eyes (Rhino-conjunctivitis) and itchy skin (Eczema).

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On the positive side, eating three or more portions of fruit a week, below the advised three servings per day, was found to have a protective effect and reduced the risk of severe eczema and rhino-conjunctivitis by 11 percent to 14 percent.

Fast Food

The teenagers and parents of the six and seven year olds were questioned on the symptoms of asthma, rhino-conjunctivitis and eczema in the preceding 12 months. The researchers also asked participants about their diet and consumption of certain types of foods and the frequency of consumption was put in three categories, measured as never or occasionally, once or twice a week and three or more times a week.

The study included data from 319,000 teens of 13 and 14 years old in 51 countries and 181,000 children between the age of six and seven in 31 countries. This enabled the study to show the results were consistent in rich and poor countries, among boys and girls, and in many different societies across Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia, and also control for other factors potentially influencing the results.

Researchers cautioned that this kind of study cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship, but if the latest link is indeed causal then the latest findings would have a “major public health significance owing to the rising consumption of fast foods globally,” the study authors Professor Innes Asher from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and Professor Hywel Williams, from the University of Nottingham in the UK wrote in the study.

“The positive association observed here between fast food intake and the symptom prevalence of asthma, conjunctivitis and eczema in adolescents and children deserved further exploration, particularly in view of the fact that fast food is increasing in popularity around the world,” the authors wrote.

Malayka Rahman, research analysis and communications officer at Asthma UK, confirms that diet may contribute to a person’s risk of developing asthma and that following a healthy diet may have a beneficial effect, as other research results show.

“This research adds to previous studies that suggest a person’s diet can contribute to their risk of developing asthma, and indicates the benefit of further research to determine the effects that particular food groups can have on the chances of developing asthma or the impact it may have on severity,” Rahman said in a statement.

“Evidence suggests that the vitamins and antioxidants found in fresh fruit and vegetables have a beneficial effect on asthma,” Rahman added. “Therefore, Asthma UK advises people with asthma to eat a healthy, balanced diet including five portions of fruit or vegetables every day, fish more than twice a week, and pulses more than once a week.”


India faces obesity crisis thanks to rise in junk food culture

India has joined the growing list of countries whose populace is falling victim to the intensifying obesity pandemic. It is estimated that 1:5 men and 1:6 women are now considered clinically obese and the numbers are still rising.

Several other countries including Mexico, Russia and China have recorded higher percentages of their population but due to the sheer size of India’s populace, the epidemic is leaving huge numbers of individuals with potentially deadly health problems.

India is descending further into an obesity crisis.

India is also still struggling with farmer suicides due to chemical companies like Monsanto signing them up to life long contracts which forces them to buy machinery and patented seeds which they can not save as farmers traditionally do. The costs of maintaining the contracts are pushing the farmers into poverty and rather than face the issues head on, many are opting to end their lives over what they see as insurmountable odds.

Is it possible that India’s obesity problem has coincided with the introduction of Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) crops?

Indian farmers have been committing suicide in alarming numbers rather than face a lifetime of debt with Monsanto.

Certainly the introduction of money from foreign investors has seen a sharp increase in junk food and western product brands which are high in sugar and monosodium glutamate, both of which contribute heavily to obesity.

The actual increase in figures was initially recorded over a seven year period (between 1998 and 2005) and rose by 20% for that period. Since then the number of cases has increased further and many people are now suggesting that heavier taxation should be placed on junk food and sugar.

The influx of cash to India has also brought the junk food culture. Obesity followed soon after.

The problem with taking such measures is that Monsanto, for instance, has people from its board of directors directly linked to congress. Indeed many staff members have been responsible for passing food bills by jumping from Monsanto to the FDA and back again (several times) which make it harder to produce anything other than non-organic food. It is only logical that taxing junk food would bring the money back to the companies who produce the raw materials to make the junk, as has been witnessed recently in the drug industry with the US government trying to send more money towards big pharmaceutical companies, money which will come from obese tax payers pockets.

Monsanto own patents on thousands of seeds and are using them to extort money from farmers all over the world.

There are several solutions to the growing obesity pandemic. Firstly, food advertising and labelling needs to be made extremely clear and products like Aspartame and Processed Free Glutamic Acid need to be banned completely as they are poison – this will stop food companies hiding MSG by deceptive labelling.

Sugar is one of our deadliest enemies in the obesity war.

A return to organic, healthy farming needs to be made so that crops are grown without the need for chemicalisation. Obese people need to be encouraged to exercise more and if those things aren’t incentive enough, then health care for obesity related illnesses needs to cost more.

Until governments can enforce such laws and measures we have to do what we can for ourselves and that includes more exercise, eating healthy, raw fruit and vegetables as well as cutting out mass produced, over processed, junk and sugary food.

Please share your thoughts on obesity in India by leaving a comment.

Read about the war against obesity like a rallying call for stronger measures against the illness, it’s impact on other health issues, how bad sugary drinks are for us, how the food industry uses propaganda to lie to us and the rise of diabetes cases since obesity appeared.


Qnexa is the third diet pill to be rejected by the FDA

Qnexa is the latest in a long line of quick fix diet pills aimed at combating obesity.  The combination drug is manufactured by Vivux Inc. of California and their test pills easily passed the FDA’s requirements.

The FDA rules that anti-obesity drugs must cause at least a 5% body weight loss in a third of its test subjects to be considered for release as a prescription drug, something which Qnexa easily managed.  Despite meeting the requirements the FDA rejected the drug over concerns about safety, citing risks to the heart and other major organs as the reason for their decision.

The setback for Vivus and their wonder pill Qnexa comes at a time when the FDA has tightened its belt over such drugs, Qnexa being the third this month.  Vivus were confident that the combination of Phentermine  (a weight loss stimulant) and Topiramate (an anti-convulsant drug used in epilepsy treatment) would yield great results in the nation’s battle against increasing obesity cases.

An alternative to drug assisted weight loss is a change of diet and exercise.  Although most diets require a good level of commitment, there are many proven, healthy diets for people to try such as 50% raw vegan which can be supplemented by organic meat products.

Food manufacturing, in the US especially, is big business and a quick scan of the ingredients on any frozen food package or ‘junk’ food carton will give you a good idea as to why there is so much obesity these days.  That’s before looking at fast food ingredients.

Most products are full of chemicals as indicated by E numbers and sugars which the body is unable to break down leaving fatty deposits which obviously leads to weight gain.  On the other hand raw and organic food steers away from such things, leaving foods in their natural state meaning that the nutrients, friendly bacteria and enzymes remain intact which is far more beneficial to the body.

Combine that healthier calorific intake with an hour long walk everyday or yoga three times per week and you’ve found yourself a drug free combination for improving health and losing weight.  It may take longer to see the results but once the weight is lost it tends to stay gone.

Anti-convulsants or fresh air and organic food?  Let us know your opinion by leaving a comment.

Read about celebs who have lost weight such as Anthony Hopkins, Kelly Osbourne, 50 cent – or look at our Yoga selections like Bikram, Kundalini, Iyengar and Ashtanga Vinyasa.


Junk food just as addictive as drugs, study finds

A new study has found that an addiction to junk can be compared to that of drugs like cocaine. How? Basically the pleasure center of the brain gets overloaded when often consuming junk food. Then, in the same way it works with drugs like cocaine or heroin, the pleasure centers “crash”, thus requiring more of the “drug” to achieve the same levels of pleasure, CNN reports.

Associate Professor of Molecular Therapeutics at Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, Paul Kenny, Ph.D, said: “People know intuitively that there’s more to [overeating] than just willpower. There’s a system in the brain that’s been turned on or over-activated, and that’s driving [overeating] at some subconscious level.”

The study, conducted on rats, found that those who ate human junk food, unsurprisingly, became obese. But what scientists found out due to testing the electrodes implanted in the rats’ brains, was that they gradually built a tolerance to their food (as humans do with drugs). This means the rats had to eat more junk food to be able to get the high.

“While the findings cannot be directly transferred to human obesity, it found that overconsumption of high-calorie food triggered addiction-like responses in the brain,” the Telegraph writes.

The study was published online in Nature Neuroscience.

Several celebrities have battled weight problems. These include Sharon Osbourne,Oprah WinfreyJohn Candy and Kirstie Alley.

Click here to find out more about obesity.