CIUDAD JAUREZ, Mexico -- Ciudad Juarez -- A bill to tax sugary soft drinks and high calorie junk food is moving forward in Mexico's Congress as part of a major effort to raise tax revenue. Supporters hope it will also reduce soaring obesity and diabetes rates.
“It’s bad but we want to drink coca cola with our lunch,” said Luis Mendez who bought three bottles of coke for fellow construction workers.
It (the tax) is going to hit a lot of people in the pocketbook, especially those who don’t make a much money,” said Mendez.
Mexico’s lower house of congress approved a one peso tax per liter on sugary beverages, the equivalent of 8 cents and a 5% tax on high calorie junk food.
The Senate is also expected to also vote in favor of the bill that overhauls the tax system and raises $20 billion dollars.
“It will be very expensive. Sales will fall,” said Rodrigo Lopez, a street vendor who sells sodas and snacks in Ciudad Juarez in front of a hospital.
We know it’s very damaging to our health,” said Nancy Rodriguez, a health care worker. She works in a clinic that vaccinates children.
Rodriguez says many of the kids are overweight but also malnourished. Some are “anemic,” said Rodriguez.
Mexico is coping with an obesity epidemic and the resulting health problems of diabetes and heart disease. According to the World Health Organization 70 percent of Mexicans are overweight and 30 percent qualify as obese.
This year the country surpassed the U.S. topping the list of obese nations in the Western Hemisphere according to a report by the United Nations.
Mexico’s eating habits are now similar to the U.S. More people eat fast food on the run rather than sit down to the traditional lunch at home or in a restaurant.
“I’m in a big hurry,” said Alejandra Esparza, who is eight months pregnant. She stopped to buy a large bag of bright orange cheese puffs after leaving the hospital and rushing to catch a bus.
Beverage companies and sugar producers have lobbied hard against what opponents have dubbed the “Bloomberg Tax” in reference to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to in limit the sale of giant sugary soft drinks in New York City.
Bloomberg’s foundation is helping an fund anti-obesity campaign and research in Mexico with a $10 million, three year effort.
But even some of those who worry about the country’s growing waistline like Rodriguez, the health care worker, doubt the tax will keep people from making poor food choices.
“The government can’t do that,” said Rodriguez. We have to tell ourselves, enough. Stop.”