MEXICO CITY, Mexico — In the early 2000s, the U.S. was the top-ranked obese country in the world. By 2010, Mexico’s numbers surpassed the United States. Mexico’s obesity problem stems from food insecurity and the inability to afford healthy food. Foods containing high calories, sugars and bad fats are the only types of food many Mexican families can afford. Advocates who have been fighting obesity in Mexico for years have finally succeeded in pushing the government to make a change.
Obesity in Mexico is Dangerously High
The percentage of citizens suffering from obesity in Mexico has been drastically increasing over the last 30 years. A majority of obese adults and children come from the poorest states in Mexico, where nearly all inhabitants live at or below the poverty line. Over 70% of adults in the country are at least overweight if not obese.
Of preschool-aged children, over 16% are overweight or obese, as are 26% of school-aged children. In the late 1990s, only one-fifth of the population was overweight. But now more than 70% of the country’s population is dangerously overweight if not obese. This has led to an extreme rise in diabetes, the number one cause of death in Mexico. It takes the lives of approximately 80,000 people annually. For many people living below the poverty line, it is impossible to follow a diabetic diet because healthier foods are too expensive.
Poverty and Poor Nutrition
Despite lacking nutrition, unhealthy foods are heavily purchased in families with children due to their price. Over 50% of Mexico’s children live below the poverty line leaving more than half of the country at risk for malnutrition and obesity-related health issues. Inadequate education also leaves citizens without an in-depth understanding of nutrition and proper portioning.
Child obesity in Mexico is high partially due to junk food advertisements aimed at their age demographic. Ads for sugary drinks, candy and high-processed foods are a staple in households and even schools. Cheap junk food and fast food have become socially accepted as a normal main source of nutrition for middle and low-income families. Due to the drastic price drop of soft drinks in the early 1990s, adults and children drink soda or sugary beverages over juices or bottled water. Mexico is now ranked number one in soda consumption in the world.
Making a Change
In late January, activists in Mexico fighting for informative food labels, nutritional equality and education finally succeeded. The anti-obesity activists have been pushing the government for the last decade to do something about the health crisis. Now all high-calorie products will have large, front-facing black labels as warnings about their unhealthy ingredients. Labels on food have been problematic because each brand makes up their own portion sizes. Thus, making actual proper portioning unrealistic. Items with caffeine and high trans fats will now come with a warning about giving unhealthy products to kids.
Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s poorest states took their anti-obesity campaign a step further and banned the sale of junk food to minors. Currently, Oaxaca has the highest child obesity rate in the entire country. Magaly López Domínguez, the woman who introduced the bill, takes the matter very seriously in order to protect children affected by childhood obesity.
Moving forward, it is essential that the Mexican government continue to take steps to improve the health of its citizens. While informative labeling and junk food bans are important, obesity in Mexico cannot be eradicated without also addressing the rampant poverty that causes it. To ensure families are able to afford healthier food options, the government must also focus on poverty reduction.
– Amanda Rogers