In Mexico, things go better with…water

Andy Uhler Apr 10, 2015
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In Mexico, things go better with…water

Andy Uhler Apr 10, 2015
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If you’re looking for lunch in the northern Mexico border town of Nuevo Laredo, you might walk into a spot called La Parilla. When I walked in there, I noticed almost every table has four or five empty soda bottles on it. This isn’t a big restaurant – less than 20 tables. My waiter tells me that he sells about 100 sodas every day.

“It’s because people just enjoy the flavor,” he says.

And his customers aren’t alone. The Mexican population drinks more soda than anywhere else in the world. The numbers work out to more than 160 liters consumed per person of the sugary stuff a year. That’s about half a liter every day.

Jose Luis Quinones drives a cab in Monterrey. He says when he leaves for work in the morning he grabs something quick.
“And what’s the cheapest thing I can buy?” he asks. “A can of soda and some crackers. It’s cheaper to buy a can of soda than a bottle of water.”

Why is that the case? It could be that poor Mexicans don’t have the purchasing power to create a viable market for water. That’s certainly the case in a lot of the rural parts of the country where more than 10 percent of people don’t have access to potable water. But for some reason, they can always grab a soda. Tom Bollyky, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the reason behind that is a combination of things.

“It’s something that costs the same price as water,” he says. “And it’s more accessible in schools in Mexico. And it’s sweet. That combination is literally deadly.”

It leads to obesity. Mexico now has the highest obesity rate in the world. And the Mexican government is trying to do something about it. Last year, the government passed a soda tax. It also started running ads urging children to drink water instead of soda. But Bollyky says the way they’re using the money – earmarking it for raising access to drinking water in elementary schools – is just as important.

It will still take a while to see how well the tax and ads work. But early numbers look pretty good. According to Bollyky, while still high, soda consumption in Mexico is down 7 percent.

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