By Alicia de la Peña
In 2006, the Mexican Institute for Public Health warned that, despite persistent poverty levels, the country was facing an obesity pandemic. (National Institute of Public Health, 2010). High rates of malnutrition among the poorest people in Mexico still exist, but a change in lifestyle patterns - leading families to eat more processed foods, engage in less physical activity and consume more edible oils and sweetened beverages - has resulted in rates of obesity comparable to many developed countries. (Popkin, Adair, & Wen Ng, 2011)
It is true that each individual is responsible for what he or she eats. But children have less choice - they eat what their parents give them. And parents argue that they cannot afford to provide for a healthy diet. For example one litre of milk in Mexico costs about $1, the same as three litres of soda which tastes better and is more widely available. With a minimum wage in Mexico of less than 5 dollars a day, is it surprising that families are buying more soda than milk?
As consumers, we expect that food and beverage manufacturers apply the highest ethical - that the products we purchase are fresh and pure; that we are charged a fair price for these goods; and that they are made available to us where and when we require them. But, increasingly, we expect marketers to go beyond this – to also take on responsibility for our consumption behavior. As a result, some self-regulatory bodies, food marketers and advertising agencies have begun to take action on health issues. (Mueller, 2007)
The Mexican government has also begun proactively regulating companies that sell processed foods such as sodas, chips and cookies. The advertising and food industry has, in turn, developed several of the new standards – like the PABI Code (2007). (PABI CODE, 2007). There have also been efforts to legislate against the sale of foods and drinks of low nutritional value in schools. As a result we now have smaller versions of the products with lower calories, but still aimed at children.
Is this an adequate solution? I believe that besides the regulatory measures and changes in product size and ingredients, we have to educate consumers - to make them co-responsible of their behavior and teach them to make healthful choices. Otherwise, we will end blaming the government for our bad choices (which is not untypical in Mexico) and expecting the public health system to take care of increasing numbers of Mexicans with diabetes and heart disease.
PABI CODE. (2007). Recuperado el 17 de Feb de 2012, de Self regulation advertising code of food and beverages aimed to the children: http://www.e-consulta.com/blogs/educacion/imgs_10/codigo_pabi.pdf
National Institute of Public Health. (2010). Recuperado el 17 de Feb de 2012, de http://www.insp.mx/noticias/nutricion-y-salud/1200-crecen-sobrepeso-y-obesidad-infantil-en-mexico-11-al-ano.html
Mueller, B. (2007). Just where does corporate responsibility end and consumer responsibility begin? The case of marketing food to ids around the globe. International Journal of Advertising, 26(4), 561-564.
Popkin, B. M., Adair, L. S., & Wen Ng, S. (2011). Global nutrition transition and the pandemic of obesity in developing countries. Nutrition Reviews, 70(1), 3-21.