MEXICO CITY — Diabetes is the number one cause of death in Mexico, responsible for 80,000 deaths annually. One cause of this is genetic predisposition, however, the rising rate of obesity is also a huge reason why 14 percent of Mexican adults are diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes in Mexico is a major health concern, leading to a lower life expectancy and a high risk of developing disabilities.
The number of Mexican adults with diabetes has tripled since 1990, and by 2030 it is estimated that 17 percent of the adult population will have diabetes. Further projections predict that without proper interventions and lifestyle changes, potentially 50 percent of the adult population will have diabetes by 2050. This rapid increase of diabetes in Mexico is primarily due to dietary factors. Mexico is the leading consumer of soda per capita in the world. Coca-Cola estimates that the average Mexican drinks two glasses of its products each day; this does not include consumption of other soda brands. In 2014, in an attempt to discourage soda consumption, the Mexican government implemented a one peso per liter sugar tax.
In 2015, an estimated 98,000 Mexicans died from diabetes; in response, the federal government declared an epidemiological emergency, the first ever for a noncommunicable disease. There were an additional 4,500 amputations and 20,000 persons declared permanently incapacitated as result of diabetes complications. The estimated cost of treating diabetes in Mexico in 2015 was nearly $2.7 billion.
Diabetes requires regular care for life, with frequent follow-ups and adherence to medications and treatment regimes. Since those without health insurance are less likely to adhere to medical treatment, Mexico intends for its public insurance scheme, Seguro Popular, to improve treatment options for Mexicans who otherwise would not receive any care. While this system has shown to improve care-seeking behavior for those with diabetes, the high cost of diabetes treatment and rapidly growing diabetic population raises concerns about how Seguro Popular will continue to provide comprehensive care with increased financial strain.
Larger cities, such as Mexico City, are trying to encourage healthy lifestyle changes by adding bikes to roads and building parks with exercise equipment. However, these amenities tend to be in wealthier areas of the city and are not found in the outskirts, where health problems and poverty are more rampant. Yet one of the largest public health prevention measures, the soda tax, appears to be working, particularly among the population without access to the previously mentioned amenities. In the two years since the introduction of the tax, soda consumption has declined by 10 percent. Poorer households were responsible for a large part of the decline, with a decline of 12 percent in this population. Public health officials are optimistic that these declines could save $1 billion and 200,000 lives over the next decade.
While diabetes in Mexico in on the rise, large-scale public health initiatives like this, coupled with medical professionals encouraging lifestyle changes, can help reduce the drastic effect of this epidemic in Mexico and the negative effects on quality of life and poverty that come with diabetes.
– Nicole Toomey