Facing a coronavirus pandemic that preys on people with underlying health conditions like obesity, state governments in Mexico are taking extreme measures to halt the virus by prohibiting the sale of junk food to minors. This week, state legislators in the southern state of Tabasco voted to ban the sale of sodas, sugary drinks, and other highly processed foods, like chips and candy, to anyone under the age of 18. The vote comes on the heels of a similar measure in nearby Oaxaca, which has the country’s highest rate of childhood obesity, and is among a dozen or so Mexican states—representing about a third of the country—working on legislation to limit the sale of junk food to minors.
The problem of obesity and the junk food that helps fuel it is not new to the country: Mexicans drink more sugary drinks per capita than any other country in the world, and a recent study in the state of Guerrero said 70 percent of schoolchildren reported having soda for breakfast. A January 2020 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that 73 percent of Mexicans are overweight. The findings are linked, which has prompted a host of measures over the years to reduce consumption, including a sugar tax in 2014 and a new labeling law on junk food set to go into effect in October that treats junk food packaging much like cigarettes.
Mexico has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus, with more than 500,000 confirmed cases and 57,000 fatalities, the third-highest number of virus-linked deaths in the world. “With its ley antichatarra, or anti–junk food law, the southern state of Oaxaca, in a vote of 31 to 1, prohibited the sale of items such as chips, candy, soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages to children under 18, putting these foods in the same category as cigarettes and alcohol,” the Washington Post reports. “The law establishes fines, store closures and jail time for repeat offenders. The ban also applies to vending machines in schools.” Mexico’s coronavirus czar, Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell, applauded the move to restrict junk food sales, calling sugary drinks “bottled poison.”