Mexico is the biggest consumer of soft drinks in the world, with a per capita consumption 40 percent greater than in the United States.

The average per capita consumption is 163 liters (43 gallons) per year, while the neighboring country reaches only 118 liters (31 gallons), according to the results of a study that the director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Kelly Brownell, released at a press conference in Mexico City.

For that reason, health and consumer groups demand that the government put a 20 percent tax on soft drinks.

The proposal to impose such a tax, according to Alejandro Calvillo, director of Consumer Power, stems from the recommendations of international organizations on comprehensive policies for combating obesity, since "these drinks are the chief source of calories" in Mexico.

He recalled that the World Health Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the United Nations have called on the government to take measures against this epidemic, but "they have been ignored."

Calvillo also cited the statement by Health Secretary Angel Cordova, who said that the obesity problem has gone beyond the capability of the public health system to deal with it, and predicted that in six years the cost of addressing obesity-related health problems will equal the system's current annual budget of $14 billion.

A tax on soda pop "would bring about a 16-24 percent drop in consumption," which would in turn lead to fewer calories being ingested and would be a boon to household budgets, from which "more is currently spent on soft drinks than on eggs, beans and tortillas," Calvillo said.

He also said that with the funds from taxes, the health conditions of the general population can be improved and there would be more money available to treat health problems resulting from the high intake of these products.

As an example he mentioned the introduction of free drinking-water fountains in schools and public spaces, which would reduce even more the indiscriminate drinking of carbonated beverages.

"Our country has become a factory for producing anemia and obesity, because people with such habits go from malnutrition to obesity by substituting nutritious drinks with soda pop," Dolores Rojas, coordinator of Oxfam Mexico, said.

On the eve of the Mexican Congress' debate on the 2012 budget, Rojas said that the proposal is "precise and specific" because it would bring drinking water to those who don't have it.

According to a report from the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to nutrition, Olivier De Schutter, seven out of every 10 Mexicans are overweight.

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