COVID has hit Mexico hard. Our southern neighbor has the fourth-highest death rate in the world. Over 70,000 Mexicans have died, two-thirds of which had underlying medical conditions related to diet (i.e. high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, obesity, etc.).
This heavy toll from the pandemic has driven home the severity of the public health crisis in the country, and especially among the young. NPR reports that 30% of Mexican children between ages 6 to 19 are overweight or obese, and pervasive poverty often forces families to rely on cheap calories from processed foods.
Mexican authorities and scientists fault “the nutritional environment” that kids are raised in. While a national ban on junk food sales faces steep political hurdles, several Mexican states have already enacted, or are debating efforts to limit children’s access to junk food.
In both Oaxaca in southwestern Mexico and Tobasco to the SE, state legislatures “passed a ban on selling or giving out high-calorie packaged foods and sugar-sweetened drinks to minors” (Frederick, 2020).
There has also been action at the federal level. Last year a new law passed requiring “giant” warning labels on some unhealthy foods: “EXCESS SUGAR!” “EXCESS SODIUM!” “EXCESS TRANS FATS!”. Plus, community activists and government nutrition programs are promoting a return to traditional foods, which feature abundant local produce, beans and corn tortillas.
Critics argue that these regulations don’t address the underlying cause or poor diets — poverty. They point out that other factors are impacting dietary choices in Mexico. Others predict that candy, chips, and soda sales will move to un-regulated street vendors and other market channels. But the teenagers NPR interviewed for their radio piece didn’t seem too concerned.
“‘I’d be frustrated at first if I couldn’t buy a Coke,” said 16-year-old Wendy Treviño, “but I’d adapt. And maybe I’d think twice and buy fruit or something healthy instead.'”
Can you imagine a teenager living down the block in America saying the same thing?
James Frederic; “‘We Had To Take Action’: States In Mexico Move To Ban Junk Food Sales To Minors;” NPR; Date Published: September 14, 2020, Date Accessed: September 18, 2020.