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Mexico's legislators propose taxing fatty and sugary foods

When placed in the context of the continuously debated Affordable Care Act, Mexico's recent legislation aimed at taxing high-calorie, low-nutrition foods seems like a drastically overreaching federal initiative. However, President Peña Nieto's call for more daily exercise and other tax initiatives to battle "a real overweight and obesity epidemic" should be lauded.

Mexico's Lower House of Congress has proposed a 5 percent tax on fatty, packaged foods as well as a 1 peso (7.5 US cents) levy on one liter of sugary soda in an attempt to curb the obesity epidemic and its related health problems, according to a Wall Street Journal article. A recent United Nations report on "The State of Food and Agriculture" revealed that 32.8 percent of Mexico's adult population is obese, with 31.8 percent of U.S. adults not far behind. As obesity highly correlates with increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, the total cost to health care could actually be in the billions for individual countries and over 1 trillion globally.

In the face of such harrowing statistics, President Peña Nieto welcomes a change to the status quo. "This appears to be the most aggressive strategy anywhere in the world in recent years to improve diets via tax disincentives," noted Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, in the WSJ article.

However, because Mexico is the biggest per-capita consumer of soda worldwide, the Mexican soft drink companies resent this imposition and suggest that it's an echo of a yet-to-be-implemented ban on supersized sodas proposed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. With the help of the City's Board of Health, in September 2012, Bloomberg passed a ban on the sale of sugary soft drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, sports venues, and other public soda hot spots (but excluding grocery and  convenience stores). However, this measure has been struck down by several lower courts this year and will now go to New York's highest Court of Appeals.

Although a majority of New York City residents opposed the proposed soda ban, their recent Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio was a staunch supporter of this ban during his campaign. "I believe the mayor is right on this issue," he said. "We are losing the war on obesity ... It's unacceptable," Blasio was quoted saying in the NY Daily News. So the fight is likely a long way from over, and Mexico may now be a rising model for the U.S. to follow as legislators try to tackle the obesity epidemic.

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