With the second highest national rate of obesity in the world (after the U.S.) and the fourth highest rate of childhood obesity, Mexico has started an initiative to help educate children about healthy eating habits and the dangers associated with sugary beverages and fatty foods.
According to a report from AFP, Mexicans lead the world in soft drink consumption, imbibing approximately 43 gallons per person every year.
“The (child) obesity problem arrived over 30 years and maybe we won’t need 30 years (to reduce it), but we will need at least 10 years to stabilize it,” said Mexican Education Minister Jose Angel Cordova in a press conference.
Last year, CNN notes, Mexico’s Institute for Public Health reported obesity among school-aged children went from 18.4 percent in 1999 to 26.2 percent in 2006, and more than 69 percent of the Mexican population over the age of 15 is overweight. Part of the problem, say experts, is that Mexico has strong culture of road-side food stands, where students can easily buy inexpensive, unhealthy food on their way to and from school.
“You can see how many stands there are outside. And they’re all selling junk food! I think they should also control what they sell out here,” Parent Daniela Piña told CNN outside a grammar school in Mexico City’s Doctores neighborhood.
Mexico fights obesity
To help address the growing issue of obesity, the Mexican education ministry and partners initiated “The Week of Taste” last week in 124 schools, a program designed to show children natural and simple flavors while creating a desire to eat healthy.
This is not the first time Mexico has put the spotlight on childhood obesity, however. In 2011, the government started a campaign to focus on getting young people to drink more water, eat more vegetables and fruit, and to exercise more. The 2011 program was in response to numbers indicating the obesity rate in Mexico has more than tripled over the last three decades.
The steady rise in obesity has left Mexico fighting a number of chronic diseases, and type 2 diabetes has become the number one killer in the country. Official reports show diabetes deaths are projected to hit over 89,000, a number up 92 percent since 2000.
“Unless the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other health damages is stamped out with truly effective public actions and policies, we’ll put not only the country’s health but also its very viability at high risk,” said to Fox News Latino Dr. Abelardo Avila, of the Salvador Zubiran National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition.
Avila believes Mexico is suffering from the worst obesity epidemic in the history of humanity, not only because of the fast increase in obesity numbers, but because of an inability to prevent the condition or cope with the health consequences.
“[The greatest damage] is to suppose that the lukewarm actions undertaken to date are serving to improve the situation; there needs to be objective recognition of the seriousness of the damage and the urgency of tackling the problem with all the resources and capacities of the state and civil society,” he said.