A new report claims the obesity problem in Mexico that has led to many of its people becoming overweight, thanks to poor diets, has roots in free trade.
The New York Times published a detailed story on Monday that looked at how the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has led to an influx of high-calorie, processed foods and drinks making its way from the United States to Mexico.
NAFTA was signed in 1994 and opened the floodgates of international trade between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. America’s southern neighbor had struggled with undernourishment before that, but the deal brought low-cost processed food and drinks over the border that have replaced traditional Mexican staples in many homes.
In contrast, Mexico sends fruits and vegetables to the United States.
According to The Times, many Mexicans are now hooked on an American-style diet of fast food, hot dogs, chips, soda, and other high-calorie, low-nutrient items.
The rise in trade between Mexico and the U.S. has also led to fast food restaurants and warehouse-style stores like Sam’s Club setting up shop in Mexican cities. That means food prices have dropped – and so has food quality.
Juan González Hernández, 64, is a community leader in San Juan Chamula and told The Times that Mexicans’ new diet has taken over their lives.
“American food and products dominate our lives,” said González, a diabetic. “Everyone is sad about the changes but, at the same time, we still go to Sam’s Club and McDonald’s.”
Added Gabriel Ruiz Barbosa, “I know this stuff is bad for me, but I can’t stop. My cardiologist says I should look after myself, but I’m very stubborn. I’m afraid that one day I’m going to have a heart attack and die.”
It was reported in 2013 that Mexico had overtaken the U.S. as the world’s most obese nation. At the time, 70 percent of all Mexicans were overweight and a third of that group was obese.
According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 38.2 percent of American adults and 32.4 percent of Mexican adults were obese as of 2015. Mexico, however, has more overweight citizens – more than 70 percent.
But Jaime Zabludovsky Kuper, Mexico’s deputy chief negotiator for NAFTA, told the NYT that the trade deal simply cheapened access to high-caloric American foods that were already available. And he argued that NAFTA made Mexico more economically stable, allowing its citizens to live longer, which caused an increase in the prevalence of diabetes and heart disease. A stat to back that up: Mexico’s child malnutrition rate dropped to 1.6% in 2012 from 6.2% in 1988, according to government data.