Bittersweet

How Prices of Sugar-Rich Foods Contribute to the Diet-Related Disease Epidemic in Mexico

Published in: Journal of Health Economics, Volume 80 (December 2021). doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2021.102506

Posted on RAND.org on January 13, 2022

by Tadeja Gracner

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I provide new evidence on how price changes of nutritionally similar foods, such as those rich in sugar or fats, change obesity and diet-related diseases in the context of Mexico between 1996–2010. I merge a bar-code level price dataset with product-specific nutritional composition to two datasets with health outcomes: state-level administrative and nationally representative individual-level panel data. Exploiting within-city variation in prices using fixed effects models, I show that decreased prices of sugar-rich foods increase obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension prevalence; yet the prices of foods rich in other nutrients do not. Health responses to price changes are the largest for those abdominally obese or at the highest risk for chronic disease. The association between prices of sugary foods and chronic disease is meaningful: I estimate that in Mexico, price reductions of sugary foods explain roughly 15 percent of the rise in obesity and diabetes during the 15-year study period.

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