Mexico fights its junk food epidemic

Mexico fights its junk food epidemic

The parrot with the colorful breakfast cereals, the bakermeister bar and the cartoon candies with arms and legs: their days are numbered. The junk food mascots that generations of mexicans have grown up with need to disappear from packaging.

This is the result of a new regulation that will also require the labeling of unhealthy foods starting in october. The reason is an epidemic that existed in mexico even before the coronavirus came along: obesity, combined with diseases such as diabetes. They can make an infection with the virus more severe.

Back in 2016, the government at the time declared the high rates of obesity and diabetes an epidemiological emergency. 70 percent of adults and one-third of children and adolescents are overweight. Just over one in ten mexican adults has diabetes. Now the north american country – the tenth most populous in the world – has the fourth most covid-19 deaths. More than half of the 76,000 people killed had high blood pressure, obesity or diabetes, according to official figures.

One of the biggest food scourges is soda. According to the consumer protection association el poder del consumidor, 70 percent of children in mexico already drink sugary drinks for breakfast. Since 2014, the country has levied a tax of one peso (just under four euro cents) per liter on sugar-sweetened beverages. The consumption of cola and co. Although it has fallen since then, it is still the highest in the world in mexico, at a good 160 liters per person per year.

More than 40 percent of the.000 deaths per year – seven percent of the total – according to hugo lopez-gatell, the mexican government’s top coronavirus expert. Because of chronic illnesses due to poor nutrition, mexico is the country with the highest death rate among young adults related to covid-19, he said at a press conference in july.

Starting in october, octagonal black warning symbols must now appear on the front of packaged foods if the contents exceed the amounts of calories, sugar, saturated or trans-fatty acids, or sodium recommended by the pan american health organization. Products containing substitute or caffeine must be labeled as not suitable for children. The model for the mabnahme decided on a year ago is chile, where these labels were successfully introduced four years ago. There are no plans for a classification system like the one soon to be introduced in germany with the nutritional value logo nutri-score.

Foodstuffs that are given at least one of these warning symbols are no longer allowed to be marketed specifically to children, for example with cartoon characters, celebrities or games. Two states, oaxaca and tabasco, have recently gone further and banned the sale of junk food to minors.

Jonathan mateos chalchi sells all kinds of salty products from plastic vats in a three-wheeled imbiss cart on a burgersteig in mexico city. This is decorated with two skulls eaten by jaguars. "Peanuts, chips, cheetos, chicharrones," the 23-year-old shouts to sell his wares. The latter is deep-fried pork fat.

"Yes, this food is bad for your health, but you shouldn’t eat too much of it," says mateos chalchi. Contributing to the obesity problem in mexico, he says, is the fact that many people work too long hours and don’t get enough exercise. "All these mabreakdowns worry me," he says of the new laws. "This will have harsh repercussions for me."

Not only strab sellers like him, but also gross international brands see their revenues threatened. However, the companies’ objections have so far failed in court. UN children’s fund unicef praises mexico’s law reform as a possible model for other countries.

It has come about thanks to groups such as the consumer protection organization el poder del consumidor and its head alejandro calvillo. Since the north american free trade agreement nafta came into force in 1994 – replaced this year by the new agreement USMCA – highly processed industrial food has increasingly prevailed over traditional mexican food made from the main ingredients corn and beans, he says. In the countryside and in indigenous communities, food has also undergone a transformation. "In the remotest corners of the country, there is no drinking water, but there is soda."