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Mexico Soda Tax Proposed By President Enrique Peña Nieto To Control Obesity

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The country that tops per capita world consumption of Coca-Cola products is pondering a soda tax.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed a tax on sugary beverages to rein in obesity as part of a larger reform effort unveiled Sunday. If the proposal were to become law, Mexicans would pay an extra peso -- about 7.6 cents -- per liter, according to McClatchy newspapers.

The tax would net the Mexican government $900 million in revenue, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The proposal to tax sugary drinks came as part of a broader reform package originally expected to address only tax policy. Instead, however, Peña Nieto pitched a wide-ranging expansion of the country’s social programs to be financed by cutting tax loopholes that benefit large companies.

"The tax reform is a social policy reform," Pena Nieto said in a speech announcing his plan, the Associated Press reports.

Mexicans drink more Coca-Cola products per capita than people from any other country in the world, at average of 728 8-ounce drinks per year in 2011, compared to 403 per year for Americans, according to McClatchy.

Coca-Cola de Mexico criticized the proposal to tax sugary drinks in a statement reported by Agence France Presse, saying "a tax on beverages is ineffective to combat a problem as complex as obesity."

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola's Mexico office told the Wall Street Journal last month that the company's drinks are "healthy and can be integrated into a correct diet, combined with an active lifestyle."

The news comes amid increased international attention to the issue of obesity in Mexico -- a problem that many scientists attribute at least in part to the growing prevalence of sodas and cheap snack foods.

Obesity in the Latin American country has surpassed that in the United States, according to a report released by the U.N. in June. The report, based on figures from 2008, placed the Mexican adult obesity rate at 32.8 percent, overtaking the U.S. figure of 31.8 percent.

Obesity specialist Kelly Brownell at Duke University told Reuters prior to Peña Nieto’s proposal that curbing soda consumption made sense as a policy option, given the scientific evidence. “The strongest scientific link between any category of food and obesity is with sugared beverages,” Brownell said, according to Reuters. “If you’re going to address obesity, you need to begin somewhere, and why not begin where the science is strongest?”

A public interest group launched an anti-soda public health campaign this summer, featuring images of diabetic amputees.

Some 15 percent of Mexicans over the age of 20 suffer from adult-onset diabetes, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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