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Sugar and Health: Regulation in Mexico and the Netherlands

Date:05 February 2018
Author:GHLG Blog

By Tatia M. Brunings, GHLG Research Volunteer, t.m.brunings

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been a constant advocate for the promotion of taxation on sugary beverages in order to combat the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). In January 2014, the Mexican government enacted a law with a taxation rate of 10%, an increase of one peso, on sugary beverages. At the time, 32.8% of the Mexican population was obese, and the country was considered to have the largest obesity rate in the world, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization. Studies show that Mexico’s sugar tax led to a continuous decrease in consumption seen within its first two years of implementation.  This raises the question:  To what extent would it be effective to implement taxation on sugary beverages as seen in Mexico in 2014, within the Netherlands?

Firstly, Mexico has made several legislative acts that are aimed at food regulation. Prior to implementation of the fiscal policy, the National Agreement for Nutritional Health – Strategy to Control Overweight and Obesity (2010) [1] can be considered the first bench mark that demonstrated the government’s willingness to produce a change by setting out objectives, goals, and guidelines within the agreement that are specifically aimed at tackling the epidemic.  In addition, other laws were produced such as regulations on food labeling, [2] restrictions on unhealthy foods in schools, [3] and regulations on imports.[4]

Although, Mexico has implemented several legislative acts, it is argued that only the fiscal policy was effective. Mexico has made efforts to implement regulations on food and beverages items prior to the taxation, however, none of these measures effectively curved any lifestyle behaviours within the population. Only once the taxation was implemented was a decrease in consumption of sugary drinks observed. [5]

Additionally, it is possible that Mexico should establish more effective legislation to regulate the advertisement of foods and beverages. An experiment conducted by the BMC Public Health on 5 August 2016 reveals the drawbacks of food advertising in Mexico. The experiment was aimed to assess the nutritional quality of foods and beverages advertised on Mexican TV, applying the Mexican, WHO Europe and United Kingdom (UKNPM) nutrient profile models. Studies found 2,544 advertisements on foods and non-alcoholic beverages were broadcasted for 275 different products. On average, the foods advertised during cartoon programming had the highest energy (367 kcal) and sugar (30.0 g) content, while foods advertised during sports programming had the highest amount of total fat (9.5 g) and sodium (412 mg) content. Likewise, more than 60% of the foods advertised did not meet any nutritional quality standards, 64.3% of the products did not comply with the Mexican nutritional standards, while 83.1% and 78.7% did not comply with the parallel WHO Europe and UKNPM standards, respectively [6].

On the other hand, the Netherlands has enacted various pieces of legislation targeted toward the subject matter of foods and beverages, ranging from packaging and even the advertisement of unhealthy foods. The state has made an effort to ensure that there are regulations on the advertisement of food to children and regulations on food offered within vending machines within school environments. The Dutch Advertising Code is an impressive document on the advertisement of food, which also addresses business and industries, and can be contrasted to the lone self-regulation policy implemented in Mexico. Along with national laws, the Netherlands can rely on laws at a European level, specifically Regulation (EU) 1168/2011 [7]. Even though the Regulation allows the Member States a large margin of discretion in terms of the implementation of further policies, it sets out a basic standard on labeling and the marketing of such products.

All in all, it is evident that Netherlands and Mexico have taken various legislative steps to target unhealthy foods and beverages. Given its extensive efforts to date, the Dutch government has proven its capacities to implement such policies, and the implementation of a tax on sugary beverages as done in Mexico could theoretically be practicable. Nevertheless, I hold the opinion that a sugar tax would not be necessary to attain the objective in the Netherlands, since the other abovementioned measures have been effective in keeping the obesity rate at a minimum in the country. Conversely, it is advisable that the Mexican government create regulations on the marketing of such products, as seen in the Netherlands. As articulated by the BMC Public Health study, many of products advertised on local Mexican television do not comply with nutritional standards.

The following questions could be considered for discussion:

  1. Would it be more efficient to have legislation targeting the marketing of foods and beverages within a state compared to taxation of foods and beverages?
  2. Should the Netherlands take a further step and implement taxation on certain food and beverage items? Would this be considered beneficial?

[1], ‘Public health strategy against overweight and obesity in Mexico’s National Agreement for Nutritional Health‘ (PubMed Central (PMC), 16 May 2013)

[2]USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, ‘Mexico: Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards Mexico 2013′ (Global Agricultural Information, Network, 23 January 2014)

[3] ‘New Rules on Junk Food in Mexican Schools Cause Food Fight‘ (Fox News, 16 May 2011)

[4]USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (n 2)

[5] Kelly D. Brownell et al., ‘The Public Health and Economic Benefits of Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages’ (N Engl J Med, 2009).

[6] Sofia Rincon-Gallardo Patino et al., ‘Nutritional quality of foods and non-alcoholic beverages advertised on Mexican television according to three nutrient profile models‘ (2016).

[7] UK Food Standards Agency, ‘European Food Information to Consumers Regulation No 1169/2011‘ (2014)


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