This post is to share my latest publication, Understanding policy change for obesity prevention: learning from sugar-sweetened beverages taxes in Mexico and Chile. The article is the first coming out from our comparative qualitative examination of the policy change process in Mexico and Chile.
Governments have used fiscal policies, such as taxes and subsidies, to change consumer purchasing behaviors. “Sin taxes”, as the tobacco or sugary beverage taxes are sometimes called, are imposed to increase the price and lower consumption of goods deemed bad for health. Governments imposing these taxes may benefit from the positive image of being perceived as caring for the health of the public, while also adding a new revenue stream to their budgets. Yet, while a relatively simple and low-cost policy to implement, taxes on sugary beverages face multiple oppositions, particularly from the beverage industry. Common arguments against the tax include: The tax disproportionately affects the poor. The tax will result in unemployment and economic loss. The tax is not effective against obesity. And the list goes on. These arguments are part of the industry playbook, as presented by Dr. Marion Nestle’s excellent book, Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning) and confirmed by our industry respondents. The food and beverage industry has a playbook translated and adapted across borders, ensuring a sit at the policymaking table, despite the conflict of interests between increasing revenue and public health. These arguments become part of the public discourse, where regulation, even if for the public good, is met by backlash.
The debate over soda taxes and obesity prevention policies resonate with the current politicization of public health prevention messages in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The virus has shed a spotlight on how chronic health conditions can be deadly in the short run, and the importance of prevention. Yet, it also shows the difficulty of getting the public to carry out relatively simple behaviors, such as social distancing and wearing face coverings. This demonstrates the tension between the deeply rooted individualism in the United States and the common good. Sadly, this tension is being exacerbated by the deep political divide resulting in the disregard of science and common sense among those currently in leadership roles.
See Related: Soda and Happiness