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Sweet Finding

Elizabeth Donaldson

Student’s case study of Mexico tax demonstrates the importance of passionate advocacy.


When Elisabeth Donaldson, PhD ’15, MHS ’08, was presented with an opportunity to investigate the advocacy campaign that led to a new sugar-sweetened beverage tax in Mexico, she recognized it as her chance to take part in the Bloomberg School’s mission of “Saving Lives…Millions at a time.”

“A 2013 law taxing sugary beverages could be a significant step in saving numerous lives, and Donaldson’s report, Advocating for Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxation: A Case Study of Mexico on effective advocacy for the law can help other public health practitioners create similarly successful policies,” says Joanna Cohen, PhD, Bloomberg Professor of Disease Prevention in Health, Behavior and Society; and director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control (IGTC).

“As a student at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, I was interested in studying policy change and the science of advocacy,” says Donaldson, a past CLF-Lerner Fellow. “This case study let me apply what I learned in the classroom and simultaneously broadened my understanding of how to be an effective advocate in a real policy setting.”

While a research program manager at the IGTC from June 2008 to August 2011, Donaldson gained an understanding about some inner workings of public health policy prior to enrolling in the PhD program. When she learned about the integral role that taxation plays in reducing tobacco use, she recognized that Mexico’s sugary beverage tax could have an important impact on improving health in that country, and beyond. Mexico, one of the first countries to levy an excise tax on sugary beverages in an attempt to battle obesity, has one of the highest obesity rates in the world; and 70,000 deaths annually are attributed to diabetes.

Donaldson’s examination of the case reveals that the passion of advocates promoting the law made a difference in its successful passage and implementation. “The key individuals interviewed for this case study were dedicated to making impactful public health change to improve the health and well-being of children and adults in Mexico,” she says.

The findings of this report suggest that strong advocacy work, dissemination of concrete scientific evidence and knowledge of the political context are important facilitators in the promotion of policy change for obesity prevention and control.

The report was distributed to and discussed by key decision makers from throughout Latin America during the recent Regional Workshop on Non-Communicable Diseases held in Panama City, Panama, and hosted by the Pan-American Health Organization, Panama Ministry of Health and the Healthy Latin America Coalition. Donaldson hopes that the report will inform public health advocates working in taxation or policy intervention.

Learn more about the Institute for Global Tobacco Control.

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