Mexican health advocates are calling for far-reaching changes and greater coordination in tackling a public health crisis that is taking thousands of lives and costing billions of dollars every year.
“The damage is done. We have a lost generation,” said Dr. Abelardo Avila, researcher with the Salvador Zubiran National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition. “Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans are dying every year from diseases related to obesity and the cost is catastrophic. No more time can be wasted. (Action) is something we should have done 20 years ago.”
A 2012 study, the National Health and Nutrition Survey, found that 71 percent of Mexican adults and 34.4 percent of children were either obese or overweight. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently declared that Mexico had surpassed the United States as having the highest national rate of obesity in the world.
According to the FAO, the percentage of Mexicans who are now obese has tripled from 10 percent of the population in 1989. The World Health Organization blames weight factors for the deaths of 141,175 Mexicans from circulatory problems in 2010 alone. Significantly, the toll for that year jumped from 97,655 deaths from the same cause in 2000.
In economic terms, the 2012 Mexican health and nutrition study estimated that the country could spend five billion dollars annually on obesity-related health issues through 2017.
In April, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto instructed the Secretariat of Health to develop a national plan to combat obesity and diabetes. So far, the outlines and particulars of a new strategy have not publicly emerged.
Guillermo Melendez, obesity project coordinator for the non-profit Mexican Health Foundation, said the implementation of a viable national plan should extend beyond health authorities and draw in representatives from the taxation, commerce and education secretariats.
Melendez said linkages between government, the private sector and society in general are critical for achieving success in reducing obesity rates over the medium and long terms. The health specialist opined that proposals to tax soft drinks and junk food would fall short of health goals if other measures were not pursued.
“This has to be accompanied by the control of (product marketing) and physical activity programs,” Melendez said.
Action on obesity, meanwhile, is high on the agenda of U.S.-Mexico health collaborations. More than 150 health sector professionals from the two neighbors met last month in McAllen, Texas, to map out a binational campaign. “We have an obesity epidemic on our border,” said Kathie Martinez, Texas state health department administrator. “We have a problem and we need to do something about it.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity rates in Texas border counties were above 30 percent of the rest of the state and 37 percent higher than the national average in 2011.
Sources: El Semanario de Nuevo Mexico/Agencia Reforma, August 8, 2013. Article by Paloma Villanueva Cruz. Laopinion.com, July 25, 2013. Cronica.com, July 10, 2013. Article by Dennis A. Garcia.
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Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico