By Julia Kastner, KF10 Mexico
Mexico shares a major problem with its northern neighbor. No, I’m not referring to the drug trade, which has left 18,000 Mexicans dead since 2006 (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8582497.stm for more), although this is obviously Mexico’s biggest problem both socially and economically. In this case, I’m referring to obesity. According to a study by the OECD, 24.2% of Mexico’s population is obese, which makes Mexico the second-most obese country in the world, second only to the United States at 30.6%.
Why are Mexicans so obese? Well, for the same reasons Americans are obese – lots of unhealthy food and little exercise. Many of the Mexican micro-entrepreneurs sell food like hamburgers, tamales (a corn and lard-based local delight), tacos, sodas, snack food, etc. Many others provide car/taxi services, as very little of Mexico is walking accessible or has efficient public transportation to provide a walking-friendly lifestyle.
Awareness around this issue has, in fact, been growing, and demand for healthier options has been increasing. Gyms are becoming more and more common (I even found one while traveling in rural Tabasco!) and “light” or diet foods are becoming more common, with coffee shops offering Splenda and groceries offering Coke Zero. Stores selling “health foods” like whole-grain cookies and fruit smoothies have been popping up in metros and on street corners. On Monday, I went to visit a client, Mrs. Avelina Muñoz, in her “health club” restaurant. Her main product is Herbalife smoothies. She imports the powder from the United States to make her drinks (she gave us a “cookies and cream” one, which was delicious) and sells them to mostly mothers of children who go to schools nearby. They come by her shop in the morning and buy a smoothie and a sandwich for breakfast. She also sells energy teas, juice, milk, yogurt, etc.
Despite these improvements in health awareness, I wonder how much Mexico is really ready to address this problem. As I’ve been getting to know the country, I’ve gotten the feeling that this is a country where food is an enormous part of the culture – giving food as gifts, talking about favorite foods, cooking food, and of course enjoying large quantities of delicious Mexican food. I hope they can address this issue, but, like the major drug problems they’re having, it’s going to require a lot of resources – resources that perhaps Mexico doesn’t have right now. In the meantime, let’s hope that micro-entrepreneurs keep playing their role in spreading awareness and selling healthier products!