Collaborative Solutions for Weighty Problems

Wed, 09/09/2015 - 12:56

Figures dating back to 1988 reveal that at that time 25% of the Mexican population was overweight and 9.5% was obese. Today the country has the second highest obesity levels in the world. According to the National Survey of Health and Nutrition (ENSANUT), 73% and 69.4% of adult women and men, respectively, are overweight, while 35% of the total population is obese. Understanding the key factors that contribute to such high levels of obesity is an important task for both the public and private sector in order to develop effective strategies to fight the problem. In 2014, the Mexican Institute for Social Security (IMSS) conducted a study that concluded that sedentary lifestyle, high calorie intake, and genetics were the three most significant causes of obesity in Mexico. The impact of the consequences of obesity go beyond patient health, representing a serious threat to the public system. A comprehensive study conducted by the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness (IMCO) showed that the social cost of type-2 diabetes is US$5.3 billion, which is a significant burden on both the country’s budget and productivity

Addressing the factors contributing to obesity represents both a challenge and an opportunity for the healthcare and food industries. High calorie intake and an unbalanced diet put children and adults at serious risk of disease, opening a new window of opportunity for food companies to develop healthier product lines. With new policies and regulations such as the tax on soft drinks, the prohibition of television advertisements for unhealthy foods, and new food labelling and ingredients requirements, many food companies are reassessing formulations and rethinking marketing strategies. Education also has an important role to play in preventing and treating childhood obesity, and parents may require specialized advice on what kind of food and beverages children should be consuming.

Food companies are aware that consumers are increasingly seeking healthier, organic, low fat, and sugar-free products, often recommended by physicians. The market for health food is worth US$22.4 billion in Mexico, and is expected to grow 10% per year according to Euromonitor. More ethical innovation is needed to improve affordability. Pharmaceutical companies are investing significant resources in research and development for the treatment of diabetes, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular diseases. Unsurprisingly, Mexico is an opportune environment for conducting clinical trials around these medical conditions. Moreover, generics are bringing economic benefits to Mexican patients. According to CANIFARMA, when Lipitor’s patent expired, five generic versions of atorvastatin entered the market, resulting in a price drop of 66%. Other companies are developing combined medicines in order to treat obesity more effectively.

A lack of physical activity not only contributes to obesity, but is also associated with the development of chronic and degenerative diseases, such as diabetes, dyslipidemia, osteoporosis, and some types of cancer. Sedentary lifestyles represent a high risk factor for premature mortality. There is a significant opportunity for experts to develop welfare programs and to work to incorporate different types of exercise into people’s lifestyle, both as a preventive and therapeutic approach. At the moment, the recreational sporting events industry is facing an unprecedented boom. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of sports centers in Mexico increased from 2,200 to 7,800, indicating increased awareness of the importance of tailor-made programs for obese and diabetic customers. More organizations are interested in encouraging people to exercise, while at the same time promoting brand positioning.

The National Institute of Genomic Medicine (INMEGEN) is conducting innovative research to elucidate the genetic factors that contribute to the development of obesity. This research is focused on the Mexican population as an extension of the global Human Genome Project. As a result it is hoped that new information will soon be available on the genes responsible for obesity, as well as their interaction with the environment, which may lead to the development of new medicines. Other organizations are making great efforts to promote integration of the different players in the healthcare industry. EXPODON is an annual trade show bringing together major enterprises with health and nutrition institutions, in order to diffuse information on the features of chronic and degenerative diseases, their treatments, their harmful effects, and methods of prevention. Events such as these help raise awareness about the problems that Mexico is facing, as well as highlighting areas of interest for investors. Overall, more initiatives are necessary to increase convergence in health services and to reach out to isolated communities.

The country’s well-known public program, Chécate, Mídete, Muévete was implemented as part of the National Strategy for Prevention and Control of Overweight, Obesity, and Diabetes, with the larger aim of promoting healthy lifestyles to the Mexican adult and infant population. The authorities can also look to effective programs implemented in other countries in order to develop population-based approaches to childhood and adult obesity prevention, as recommended by the WHO. One example can be seen in Chile, whose 12-month, school-based obesity prevention program targeted dietary intake and physical activity, and proved to be effective in controlling obesity in 1500 children. Similarly, the Australian government has conducted special surveys to identify behavioral patterns and high-risk lifestyle choices that contribute to obesity. A program called Healthy and Active Australia was developed to provide information on healthy eating, regular physical activity, and guidelines to manage weight. Although Mexican authorities can follow these examples, population-based approaches to this problem must be developed within the country, due to the unique cultural and socioeconomic differences. A universal problem requires a solution involving all major health players. Collaborative action is crucial for solving Mexico’s obesity problem.