Will Taking Junk Food Ads off Television Really Lead to Better Eating?
It was just over a year ago that the United States lost its dubious status as the world’s fattest country. Last July, a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that Mexico has become the fattest nation, with 70 percent of its population overweight or obese.
While the U.S. slid down in the rankings thanks only to Mexico’s expanding collective waistline, our southern neighbor has done more on the policy front in the past 12 months to combat its weight problem than we’ve ever managed to do. First came a soda tax, and this week the government announced a limited ban on ads for soda and other high-calorie foods, both on television and in movie theaters.
There’s a reason for the soda focus: Mexicans are the world’s biggest consumers of soft drinks, downing an average of 163 liters per person per year. That’s more than one 12-ounce soda per day. The hope is that between blocking soda ads between the hours of 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. on weekends, and the extra 8 cents per liter of soda brought about by the tax, consumption will fall. According to the Latin Times, an estimated 40 percent of advertisements for soda, candy, and other high-calorie foods will be taken off the air.
But like the soda tax before it, the ad block, which goes far beyond other countries’ efforts to limit marketing of junk food to kids, doesn’t take into account the realities of poverty in Mexico. According to an Oxfam report, soft drinks account for a quarter of Mexicans’ caloric intake. In a country where clean drinking water is lacking, soda is not only a cheap source of calories—it’s often the safest, most accessible beverage.
With nearly half of its citizens living in poverty, Mexico, like its slightly less overweight neighbor to the north, has an obesity crisis that’s bound up in the class divide—and addressing one facet of the problem without considering the other is unlikely to work.