Mexican Lawmakers Worried About Rising Obesity Rates

by VR Sreeraman on Aug 19 2007 3:24 PM

Mexican Lawmakers Worried About Rising Obesity Rates
Mexican lawmakers worried about rising rates of obesity and diabetes are threatening to do battle with the makers and peddlers of junk food.
According to the Spanish news agency EFE, the challenge to legislators is enormous as Mexico faces a ballooning fatness epidemic. Government's recent national nutrition survey found that 69 percent of the country's 103 million people to be overweight.

And of that percentage of overweight people, according to the study, some 30 percent - or about 21 million people - are clinically obese.

That's why, Congressman Samuel Aguilar said, the legislative offensive will focus on demands that a warning label be placed on all harmful products explaining to consumers the dangers of eating them.

One warning could say "sicknesses and even death", Aguilar said.

The idea is to warn consumers about junk food and "defend their right to be informed" so they can take intelligent decisions about what to eat, he said.

But according to him, companies that make food products like that have stepped up the pressure on lawmakers who are promoting the bill, which also seeks to regulate advertising and create a government programme to combat overweight.

"The powerful companies that make and market junk food, colas and alcoholic beverages, products that are harmful, operate with complete freedom. It's regrettable that neither the federal government nor the legislative branch has bothered to regulate their way of doing business," Aguilar said.

In Europe and the US, governments have redoubled their efforts to protect the health of children in particular, since they are the most vulnerable to advertising messages, he said.

A recent study by researchers at Stanford University in California showed that Mexico has the greatest number of junk-food ads per hour on television, plus worrying indices of infant obesity and with no regulation at all applied to advertising for children.

That conclusion coincides with the data from the government's national nutrition survey, which says that 26 percent of children between 5 and 11 suffer from obesity, compared with the 18 percent shown in a 1999 survey.

EPC, a consumer-protection group, is also attacking advertising that warps children's eating habits.

Last week this organization publicly censured the Kellogg and Nestle companies, which it accuses of being jointly responsible for the increasing number of fat kids in the country because of the marketing of their various cereal brands.

According to EPC director Alejandro Calvillo, the deterioration of Mexico's eating habits occurred because people no longer eat much in the way of fruits and vegetables - in 14 years the amount has fallen by 30 percent, according to researchers at the National Institute of Public Health.

"Companies' self-regulation of advertising to children is an obvious failure. It's the government that has to look after childhood health - the companies look after their profits," Calvillo said.

Meanwhile, the latest statistics indicate that nine percent of Mexican adults are diabetic and that mortality from that cause is growing at an annual rate of three percent.

The significance of these numbers is that diabetes has shot up from eighth place to become the number-one cause of death in a period of less than 20 years.


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