Mexico has replaced United States as the most obese country in the Western Hemisphere. The problem of obesity in Mexico has become a global public health challenge and was accepted by the World Health Organization as such in 1997. 70% of Mexicans are overweight while 32.8% of them are obese. 1 out of every 6 Mexicans adults suffer from weight related chronic diseases such as diabetis, heart disease and certain cancers. 70,000 Mexicans die each year from weight related diabetis. 400, 000 new cases of diabetis arise each year.
FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE OBESITY IN THE MEXICAN POPULATION
The problem of obesity in Mexico is very complex and it is due to many factors including social, cultural, epidemiological and environmental factors.
SOCIAL FACTORS AFFECTING OBESITY IN MEXICANS
1. LOW EDUCATION STATUS
There is much lack of knowledge of what nutritious foods are and what the long term effects from eating unhealthy foods are. There is also lack of knowledge about the impact physical exercise can have on health as well as what kind of exercise and how often it should be done. 2. EMPLOYMENT STATUS
People who work long hours have no time for shopping for nutritious food and also for cooking at home. Therefore they rely on processed, fried, high fat, high sugar, high calorie foods and high sugary beverages that are easily accessible. 3. POVERTY
One of the major social factors influencing obesity in Mexico is poverty. Poverty predicts the place of residence which is usually in unsafe communities. Living in unsafe neighborhoods means children stay indoors not being able to go outside and play. They resort to watching TV and playing computer games. Poverty makes it difficult to buy foods that are healthier, low calorie and more nutritious because it is more expensive.
Long hours of work means less time for food preparation at home, shopping for groceries and physical activity. Lack of money and transportation lead to children being unable to participate in sports, recreational activities and youth programs. Poverty also leads to stress which compels people to focus on the immediate concerns rather than risk of long term chronic disease. EPIDEMIOLOGICAL FACTORS AFFECTING OBESITY IN MEXICANS
Mexico ranks first in childhood obesity; there are 4.5 million children who are obese. 28% of children between the ages of 5 and 9 are overweight. 38% of teens and preteens between the ages of 10 and 19 are obese or overweight. 2. GENDER
Mexican females have a higher obesity rate than males (one third females versus one fourth of males). 3. PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Poor physical activity and an increase in sedentary life-style. 4. LOW SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS
Mexicans with low socioeconomic status are unable to afford nutritious food, they rely on low cost, processed high-calorie foods and high sugary drinks. LOW EDUCATION LEVEL
They lack knowledge about what foods are nutritious and what the long term effects are of consuming high fat, high sugar, highly processed foods and beverages. MIGRATION
More Mexicans have moved from rural to urban communities where nutritious food is more expensive, there is less walking or biking due to increased number of cars, there is an increased consumption of coca-cola mainly due to unsafe drinking water. Traditional diets that are healthier are abandoned. Traditional continuous physical labor such as farming, factories, mining were abandoned for desk jobs.
CULTURAL FACTORS AFFECTING OBESITY IN MEXICANS
Overeating now is conditioned by recurrent or past economic deprivation. Avoiding hunger is part of the culture. Traditional nutritious foods like corn, grains, beans have been abandoned. Foods that could not be afforded in the past and associated with survival are those that now are highly valued like meats, fats, sugars. These foods are also desired because they are associated with a high social status; it is a symbol of integration into society. Acculturation is also a factor; Latinos who take on the values of the white population especially those closer to the United States border, end up eating less fruit, more fried foods. There is also the belief that whatever happens, happens. They believe that if they are going to get diabetis, they get diabetis. It is meant to happen. Also, the parents expect their kids to clean their plate in order to not waste food which ends up in overeating.
ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS AFFECTING OBESITY IN MEXICANS
They reside in low income communities where unhealthy food choices are made due to lots of fast food stores. These areas are not safe so they tend to stay indoors and have minimal physical activity. There is limited amount of fresh produce and lots of sweets and snack items. Since these areas are not safe, there are few safe areas where children can play therefore they end up watching a lot of TV with no physical activity. The schools they attend have poor PE facilities so there is not much physical activity in school. There is also a high exposure to commercials of high sugar, high fat snacks.
Obesity rate was much lower in the past as people were doing more manual labor, they were eating more nutritious, home grown grains, beans, corn, fresh vegetables and fruits. The existence of cars was very minimal in the past so people used to bike and walk much more than now.
More and more people have moved from rural areas to urban areas. There is an increase in the number of fast food restaurants and a great increase in the daily caloric intake. Due to unsafe drinking water, there is an increase in high calorie sugary drinks. Mothers fill up baby bottles with coca-cola. The life in urban communities is more sedentary. There is a reliance on less nutritious dies that consist of processed foods that are high in saturated fats, sugar and salt content. “…Mexicans spent 29.3% less on fruits and vegetables in 1998 than in 1984, while during the same period, purchases of soft drinks increased by 37.2%” (2006). FUTURE CONSIDERATIONS
Obesity leads to increased mortality rates due to diabeits, hypertension, myocardial infarction. Diabetis is the primary killer of Mexicans. The prevalence of diabetis and the cost it incurs has skyrocketed. It is predicted to overwhelm the Mexican health system in the future. By year 2030, the health system is predicted to collapse; 3.24 billion dollars are spent to treat these chronic illnesses associated with obesity. GROUPS IN MEXICO MOSTLY AFFECTED BY OBESITY
Poor Mexicans are unable to afford nutritious food as it is more expensive. More energy-intense foods such as foods high in sugar and fat are cheap and sought after due to lack of money. Coca-cola is consumed instead of water due to unsafe drinking water. THE YOUNG
In the last decade, children obesity rate has tripled. Within the poor classes, the children of the obese parents are malnourished while being programmed to become obese. There is no control in school as to what children eat. Schools are filled with vending machines full of soft drinks and fast food. Their intake of processed, salty, high fat snacks, refined carbohydrates foods is very high while their intake of vegetables and fruits is very low. Their intake of sugary, high calorie beverages such as coca-cola is very high due to its low price, increased availability and lack of safe drinking water.
They live in unsafe communities and are unable to play outside and be active. They spend excess time watching TV, play station time and computer. A lot of parents rely on TV for their children due to lack of childcare; this leads to sedentary lifestyle and exposure to unhealthy food commercials. Most public schools lack playgrounds or grounds for exercise. Most public schools, (80%), lack water fountains so they drink sugary drinks. There are few public most parks, swimming pools, play grounds and sidewalks. RECOMMENDATIONS TO IMPROVE
1. FOOD LABELING
There is an urgent need for food labeling that is not confusing and misleading. There is a lack of accurate labeling standards and regulations. Portions sizes and contents are unclear and confusing. The labeling has to be formatted in an easy-to-understand by all consumers even by the less well-educated ones. This will address the social factors; the plan will not improve their education level but it will make it easy for them to see if they are purchasing healthy or unhealthy food. This has to be applied to all supermarket shelves, food packaging, restaurants and canteen menus. My recommendation is for the Mexican government to start monitoring these food labeling as it is not reinforced by the government today.
The heavy consumption of junk foods and sugary drinks can be greatly influenced by the media due to their food related advertisements. 73% of the food commercials are for junk food. There is a need to protect the children from the pervasive effects of the food marketing. This has a powerful effect on their food preference, knowledge on the purchasing habits of children as well as their parents. My recommendation for the Mexican government would be to put in place to mobile phones, Internet, television and in-school promotions. The government should simply ban the advertising of unhealthy food to children and establish a system of monetary fines if certain companies deviate from this. This will address the environmental factors; if children don’t see it they will not buy it. 3. AVAILABILITY
Junk food and soft drinks surround children at every step. Vending machines full of high saturated fats, high sugary drinks are all over the school premises and right outside the schools. No nutritious foods are offered to children in schools. My recommendation is that the central and local Mexican Government should place restrictions on the availability of soft drinks and fast food outlets just like alcohol and smoking restrictions. These restrictions should especially apply to outlets near schools.
The increased availability of vegetables and fruits should be highly encouraged especially in schools at an affordable price. Elementary and pre-kindergarten schools should ban junk food from being even allowed to be sold in schools. Low calorie snacks and sugar free drinks should be sold only. This plan will take into considerations environmental, social and epidemiological factors. It will not improve their socio- economic status, but at least nutritious food will be more affordable and available even for the poor. If children will not be surrounded by junk food and soft drinks
they will not buy it. 4.
EDUCATION DUE TO LACK OF KNOWLEDGE
The key to this problem in Mexico is to improve their knowledge about nutrition. This can be done through media since the Mexicans including the children spend hours in front of the TV and through schools. The government should direct media into advocating weight loss programs, healthy eating, the importance of physical exercise, and the long term effects of consuming junk food and soft drinks. The schools need to educate and give tools especially to high school students who have more access to fast foods to make better and healthy choices in school as well as after school. They can then bring the message home to the parents who can then make better choices as well.
They need to teach the importance of physical activity. Local school districts need to make physical activity and physical education a higher priority or even mandatory. The children need to be taught the importance of drinking water not sugary high-calorie beverages and that they should eat only when they are hungry and not as their culture says avoid hunger. Local grocery stores need to be worked with and asked to move soda, chips, beer and candy away from the entrance to the store and also increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. These recommendations will address the social and cultural factors associated with obesity. This will improve their education level about nutrition therefore helping them make better choices and help them change their belief system that they have to avoid hunger.
Obesity in the Latino Communities, 2006. Retrieved from www/chc.org/research/ Documents/Obesity_in_Latino_Communities.pdf