Mexico has the dubious honor of ranking first in the world for overweight and obesity rates, a preventable but concerning problem for its population that a broad panel of experts discussed at Mexico Health Summit 2016. This is a growing problem that will impact all sectors as hundreds of millions of pesos will be spent to address obesity in upcoming years, said Carlos López, Director General of Productos Medix, while Ricardo Mújica, Executive Director of Fundación Carlos Slim, added the condition can lead to many other diseases, from diabetes to metabolic syndrome.
“What is behind the crisis?” asked Maria Eugenia Méndez, Senior Strategy Manager at Deloitte and moderator of the Road to a Healthier Mexico – Tackling the Obesity Crisis panel at the Mexico Health Summit 2016 López explained the problem has its roots in bad eating habits, as the Mexican diet is based on carbohydrates and fats and is heavily influenced by the US, compounded with a lack of physical activity. Fabián Bifaretti, Director General of Sports World, agreed on the importance of physical activity as a means to reduce obesity. He highlighted the importance of programs that create awareness on the dangers of a sedentary life.
Prevention is paramount and campaigns to create awareness are an essential step to tackle the problem. The sugar tax is another initiative in the battle, which López said was not aimed at reducing soda consumption but, rather, to fund other healthcare programs.
Both public and private institutions are launching initiatives but there is much room for improvement. “Chécate, Mídete, Muévete” is probably the most famous campaign aimed at increasing prevention and private institutions such as Fundación Carlos Slim and Sports World are cooperating. “It is necessary to increase integration among the public and private sectors to fully address this problem,” Bifaretti said. He also focused on the role of education at universities and at home, especially at a young age.
The main challenge seems to be to change the population’s habits, Méndez said. “The hardest thing to change is behavior and socioeconomic problems complicate this further,” she said, recalling the infamous “Gansito y Coca” (Cake and Soda) diet, popular among low-income children. These habits will have a long-lasting impact. As Mújica explained, today’s parents are facing an unprecedented situation – for the first time this generation’s lifespan will be shorter than the previous.
Carlos López, Director General of Productos Medix, explains that bad eating habits are the root of the problem in Mexico.
While all actors must be involved in the eradication of obesity, “individuals will be the ones who take the final action on their health,” said Mújica. López added that many programs have helped battle the disease, as “Mexico has managed to slow its obesity growth rate to 11 percent between 2006 and 2012, but this condition is still growing and we are still far from a solution.”
The general feeling across the panel was that obesity would only continue to grow unless directly addressed. While they praised existing measures to deal with the issue, they highlighted the need for more action and exhorted the audience to think of solutions. Said López: “Ask yourself, what are you doing to address this fundamental problem?”
Contributed article by Alicia Arizpe