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Free Trade Has Contributed to Mexico’s Obesity Numbers

By Alessa Flores | Thu, 05/07/2020 - 14:05

Mexico has changed over time its eating habits and scientific research indicates that imported food has led to an increase in obesity in the country. According to research by Universidad Autónoma de Nayarit in relation to the food transition in Mexico, it is observed that Mexican society is modifying its traditional eating patterns due to high consumption of foods rich in cholesterol, saturated fat, sugars and sodium, among other nutrients. This change is worryingly associated with an increase in chronic diseases related to nutrition, such as diabetes and obesity.

One of the turning points in freedom of trade was NAFTA. The general objective of the treaty was to promote trade openness in North America through the systematic elimination of most of the tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade and investment between Canada, Mexico and the US, according to NAFTA’s official website. After the treaty was signed, trade grew at accelerated levels between the three nations. According to figures from Mexico’s government and the Ministry of Economy, between 1993 and 2017 Mexico's trade with the US grew almost 600%, from US$88.3 billion to US$522.2 billion and with Canada, almost 8 times, from US$2.7 billion to US $21.1 billion.

At a large scale, NAFTA shone a light on the billionaire exchanges between the three countries, while at a micro scale, it led to other things like the fast-food boom in Mexico. Although fast-food chains already existed in Mexico before the signing of NAFTA, the arrival of new chains was imminent. The first chain to arrive in Mexico was Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1963 in the city of Monterrey and in 1985, when fast food began to take off in the country, the first branch of McDonald's arrived, which opened in Mexico City in the area of Pedregal. Later Domino's arrived in 1990 and Burger King in 1991, according to a note from El Universal. Only between 1992 and 1994, the number of franchises went from 80 to 328, a 400 percent increase in fast-food chains, according to the same note.

The rise in obesity and nutrition-related diseases has led nutritionists and scholars to believe that the apparent economic development, as well as the import of diet patterns, contributed to changing lifestyles and habits, according to the same investigation by Universidad Autónoma de Nayarit. In addition, research clearly shows that diet plays a role in the prevention of chronic diseases and obesity.  

Likewise, it has been reported that from 1980 to 2010, the prevalence of obesity and overweight tripled in Mexico, according to data from the Ministry of Health. In addition, an OECD study revealed that about 73 percent of the Mexican population is overweight (compared to a fifth of the population in 1996). Today, Mexico has one of the highest rates of obesity in the OECD.

High levels of overweight present a health problem but also an economic problem for the country. According to multiple OECD studies, it is estimated that overweight and related diseases will reduce the Mexican workforce by the equivalent of 2.4 million full-time workers per year, since overweight people and those with related diseases are less likely to be employed. Moreover, if employed, they tend to be less productive. 

OECD revealed that people with obesity and overweight are estimated to account for about 8.9 percent of health spending per year between 2020 and 2050 in Mexico. This will cost the Mexican GDP 5.3 percentage points, which is much higher than the average of the OECD of 3.3 percent. In fact, Mexico is the OECD country where overweight, obesity and its related diseases will have the biggest impact on GDP between 2020 and 2050.

Organizations such as the Alliance for Food Health have highlighted the importance of returning to traditionally Mexican foods that, in addition to being declared in 2010 intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO, are also healthy and nutritious as they contain a wide variety of cereals, legumes and plants. MORENA Senator and member of the Committee on Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development Jesusa Ramírez, has also pointed at the importance of saving maize originating in Mexico and moving the country away from genetically modified crops.

Others point out that the important thing for Mexico to return to a healthy lifestyle is to choose a balanced diet or eating plan, which according to the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition Salvador Zubirán should be based on eating vegetables, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats and low amounts of saturated fat, trans cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars. 

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
Photo by:   Gellinger
Alessa Flores Alessa Flores Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst