Jack Tame: Chewing the fat on junk food tax

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At his heaviest, Manuel "Meme" Uribe Garza weighed 559kg. Photo / AP
At his heaviest, Manuel "Meme" Uribe Garza weighed 559kg. Photo / AP

Manuel "Meme" Uribe Garza is still described by some fellow Mexicans as the "Combination Lock" man. By one measure he was actually as many as seven men in one; a person so desperately obese he didn't fit clothes.

At his wedding in 2008, Garza arrived on a flower-festooned forklift and at his heaviest weighed a staggering 559kg, or 1234lbs.

The figure 1234, to explain the abstract analogy, is the default code for a new combination padlock.

Garza died last week of predictable obesity complications; a man whose personal struggle bluntly illustrated the obesity epidemic in the country the United Nations considers the world's fattest nation.

Seven in 10 Mexican adults are overweight and a third are obese.

Travelling in Mexico this week, it's clear from the guts-and-butts of many Mexicano silhouettes the country still has much to do in improving the size health of its people.

I was startled while I drank coffee at a roadside breakfast joint to see a family of chunky locals washing down their eggs with glasses of Coca Cola. Leafy greens were a rarity.

Fatty meats and processed carbohydrates were not.

And when I teased a Mexican host for not eating many vegetables she, straight-faced, tried to defend her diet by pointing out that tacos are made of corn.

But the land of tacos and tamales is now the land of a fat tax, too. Foods with more than 275 calories per 100g are subject to an 8 per cent tax. Fizzy drink is taxed at a peso (1c) a litre.

In law for only six months, it's probably too early to tell if the taxes are making an impact but, judging by the jowls and waistlines, I'd suggest even higher taxes might not harm.

And it's worth keeping a close eye on our Pacific amigos. While most developed countries are seeing obesity rates plateau, a study released by Melbourne researchers this week suggests Australasian obesity rates have increased more in the past three decades than any other region in the world.

Taxes worked for tobacco. Why not junk food as well?

Jack Tame is on Newstalk ZB, Saturdays 9am-midday.

- Herald on Sunday

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