The southern Mexican state of Oaxaca has banned the sale of sugary drinks and high-calorie snack foods to children – a measure aimed at curbing obesity.
The bill to reform the state’s children and adolescents’ rights law proposed fines and the possible closure of stores for selling soft drinks and sweets to children. It in effect puts sugary items into the same category as cigarettes and alcohol.
“It’s important to finally put the brakes on this industry, which has already sickened our country and our children,” said Magaly López Domínguez, the Oaxaca lawmaker who presented the bill. “[The industry] gets into the most remote corners of the state” – known for its mountainous topography – “where there’s often not even medicines, but there’s Coca-Cola.”
López Domínguez presented her bill more than a year ago, but said the Covid-19 pandemic had given lawmakers an extra push to limit soda sales.
“This health emergency makes it even more evident the damage caused by the consumption of these sugary drinks,” López Dominguez said. “Its approval was timely.”
The Oaxaca bill comes as Mexico struggles to slow the spread of Covid-19 and public officials pin their pandemic problems on Mexicans’ unhealthy habits – starting with soft drink consumption.
Coronavirus tsar Hugo López-Gatell has branded soft drinks “bottled poison” and blamed their consumption for causing 40,000 deaths, along with high incidence of diabetes, obesity and hypertension – all Covid-19 comorbidities.
Mexico’s drinks industry – a powerful lobby and big advertiser – accused López-Gatell of “satanising a strategic economic activity and a product that is the preference of millions of Mexicans”. It said in a statement that government statistics showed Mexicans consumed only 5.8% of their daily calories from soft drinks.
Some critics and public health experts accused López-Gatell – who has equivocated on recommending mask use and pursued a policy of not testing or contact tracing – of searching for a villain as the country’s virus figures showed few signs of improving. Mexico has registered more than 49,698 Covid-19 fatalities, recently passing the UK as the third-worst country for deaths.
“Our health authorities have not made mask use obligatory and refused widespread testing to detect, trace and contain contagions. Instead Dr López-Gatell has decided to adopt a new strategy: finding scapegoats,” Xavier Tello, a doctor and healthcare consultant, wrote in the newspaper Reforma.
No one denies the grip Mexico’s drinks industry has on the country. Mexicans drink 163 litres of soft drink a year per head – the most in the world – and consumption starts young. A survey by El Poder del Consumidor – a consumer advocacy group and drinks industry critic – found 70% of schoolchildren in a poor region of Guerrero state reported having soda for breakfast.
Some 73% of the population in Mexico is considered overweight, and related diseases such as diabetes are rife.
“When you go to these communities, what you find is junk food. There’s no access to clean drinking water,” said Alejandro Calvillo, director of El Poder del Consumidor.
Mexico approved a sugar tax of 1 peso per litre (roughly five US cents) in 2014 and studies found it diminished consumption by 7.5%, according to researchers. But money raised by the tax has not gone toward public health as promised, Calvillo said.