UNC researchers project positive gains for children a year after Mexico’s sugary beverage tax

New research finds that Mexico’s 10-percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), implemented in 2014, could result in meaningful weight control for the country’s children and adolescents, particularly in those who had been high consumers of the beverages before the tax.

Barry Popkin, PhD, is a co-author on “Body weight impact of the sugar-sweetened beverages tax in Mexican children: A modeling study,” which was published in the April 2020 issue of Pediatric Obesity.

Childhood obesity is a strong predictor for obesity later in life, which can also lead to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. This is the first study to attempt to estimate the benefits the SSB tax may have health trajectories for children and adolescents in Mexico.

To estimate the one-year effect of the tax on body weight of children ages 5 to 17, the team implemented a dynamical model of childhood growth and obesity, re-calibrated to the Mexican population, assuming that the known reductions in SSBs purchases would reflect changes in consumption of the beverages.

Findings show that one year after the implementation of the current 10-percent tax, children and adolescents should have experienced an average reduction in body weight of 0.26 and 0.61 kg. For those who had been high consumers of SSBs, the team estimates the positive impact on body weight would be even greater, with an average body weight reduction of 0.50 kg for children and 0.87 kg for adolescents.

The team also evaluated data using higher tax rates and projected that those rates would produce even more positive health outcomes for children and adolescents.

“Taxation represents one of the most effective ways to reduce consumption of unhealthy SSB’s, which can make a meaningful impact on future excessive weight gain and significantly reduce the long-term risks of becoming obese,” says Popkin. “If the taxation revenue is used to support child and adolescent healthy eating, then the benefits of such taxes are enhanced.”