Obesity in Mexico

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SEATTLE, Washington — Obesity is a growing problem in many countries around the world. Obesity is reaching further into Mexico and costing their citizens and healthcare system millions of dollars. With the growing rates becoming a serious health issue, something must be done to address obesity in Mexico.

A Global Issue

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the top three most obese countries in regards to adult population percentages include the United States (38.2 percent), Mexico (32.4 percent) and New Zealand (30.7 percent). Developed countries suffer from high rates of obesity despite having access to the highest technology in healthcare, parks, nature reserves, recreational facilities and healthy food options.

The World Health Organization (WHO) points the finger at processed foods, which are high in sugar and non-healthy fats, as well as at non-active lifestyles and genetics. The OECD recommends food labeling as a start. The OECD believe it is important to read the ingredients and know what is being put into your body. Proper food labeling is also important for the consumer to know what ingredients and sometimes harmful chemicals are in their foods.

Obesity in Mexico

A 2017 study projected the alarming rates of obesity to steadily rise until at least 2050. This study projects “by 2050, the proportion of obese men and women in Mexico will rise to 54 percent and 37 percent…” The study further explains that the rise of obesity in Mexico has been linked to an increase in consumption of calorie-dense foods and sedentary lifestyle.

Obesity in Mexico started becoming a hot-button topic in the 1980s when processed foods began replacing vegetables and grains. Government strategies have been implemented, but no progress has been made through these attempts. Mexico even introduced a sugar tax in 2014 to alleviate the issue, but to no avail.

One important step was taken in 2013 when the Mexican government established the National Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Overweight, Obesity and Diabetes. This agency established the promotion of healthy eating habits through the creation of the Mexican Observatory on Non-Communicable Diseases. It encourages the “timely identification of people with risk factors,” a sugary drink tax and a voluntary seal of nutritional quality.

Considerations for Reducing Obesity

The only real record of success with any of these implementations has been the taxation on sugar-filled soft drinks and similar products. Neither food label regulation nor advertising for healthy food items have been addressed. In 2014, the government-run Federal Commission for Protection Against Sanitary Risks created guidelines for the labeling of food and beverages. However, this was done without the involvement of experts and nongovernmental organizations and does not comply with WHO standards.

Director of the Nutrition and Health Research Center in Mexico, Simon Barquera, suggests that there are many steps that need to be taken to resolve this complicated problem. He goes on to further state that obesity in Mexico “is an epidemic that cannot be solved by nutrition education alone.” There are many factors to consider, such as political environment, international trade status and the environment and culture in regards to how they view obesity.

One solution that has been working in many small communities is the re-introduction of traditional crops such as amaranth. This plant was a staple for almost 5,000 years in main diets. Historically, amaranth was the preferred grain because of its high protein content, twice that of corn or rice, and its vitamins richness.  This small initiative has made a big impact on small communities. These changes may be successful at the local level, but this is not a sufficient solution for such a large-scale issue. More than crop introduction has to be done.

The Cost of Obesity

Statistics on the cost and impact obesity-related illnesses would have on the Mexican healthcare system were eye-opening. Based on the projected increases in obesity, the numbers could rise to $1.7 billion by 2050. A 2012 study conducted by Micro Health Simulations revealed that $43 million dollars could be saved in healthcare costs by 2030 if a reduction in BMI of only 1 percent could be achieved. As much as $85 million could be saved with this process by 2050. This would be a massive reduction in costs due to obesity-related illnesses.

This should be a motivator for the Mexican government to save potentially millions of dollars in the future by actively starting to promote healthy eating habits, regular physical exercise and country-wide nutritional education. All of these solutions have the potential to help save the Mexican government from spending millions of dollars a year due to obesity.

There needs to be strict enforcement on certain solutions in order for them to work. Food labeling and taxation on unhealthy products is a starting point. The more solutions that are implemented and enforced, the more lifestyle and nutritional habits will change. This, in turn, will move Mexico forward to a healthier future for all citizens.

Quinn McClurg
Photo: Flickr

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