Health

Educating the public is key to reducing obesity in Mexico

Mexico City, Oct 8 (efe-epa).- Combating obesity, a problem that affects 70 percent of Mexican adults and 30 percent of children, requires broad-based collaboration among the country’s institutions and public policies aimed at educating the public about healthy eating.

That was the consensus of four experts who took part Thursday in a virtual forum organized by Agencia Efe on the theme, “Nutrition Culture in Mexico: Challenges and Opportunities.”

Liliana Martinez Lomeli, founder and director of the Foundation for Nutrition and Development, said that while many Mexicans may have a genetic predisposition toward obesity, that doesn’t mean that any given individual is destined to be obese.

“We know that obesity is distributed (differently) among socio-economic levels. There is a social component to look at, which is inequality,” she said.

In that regard, Dr. Susana Socolovsky, president of the Argentine Association of Food Technologists, emphasized that obesity is a function not just of diet, but also of where a person stands in the social hierarchy.

“We have seen that the most disadvantaged sectors are the most obese,” the chemist said.

Poor eating habits can make people more likely to develop conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, Raul Bastarrachea, a physician and geneticist at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, said.

Increasingly sedentary lifestyles are another factor contributing to the prevalence of obesity and society is not doing enough to make people aware of that and of what they can do about it, the president of the canned food industry association (Canainca), Alejandro Malagon Barragan, said.

And the problem of people failing to exercise enough has gotten worse amid the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.

The warning labels required on food products sold in Mexico starting Oct. 1 have the potential to be a usual tool in efforts to curb obesity, the experts agreed.

“Obesity is multifactorial because it concerns not only individuals, but institutions and industry as well,” Martinez Lomeli said, calling for policies to improve housing, working conditions and education.

While it is common to blame the rise of obesity on consumption of processed foods, Socolovsky, whose specialty is ensuring the safety of zero-calorie sweeteners, said that “the packaged food we eat is not necessarily responsible for the levels of obesity.”

In Latin America, she said, processed foods account on average, for between 30 percent of 35 percent of people’s diets.

“The balance and the composition of diet have much more to do with obesity than the composition of homemade fresh food versus processed foods,” Socolovsky said.

Pointing to what she called the erroneous perception that food prepared at home is necessarily health and good, she said that if the nutritional composition “is identical to a processed food, the impact is the same.”

Food technologists are committed to make food healthy, Socolovsky said.

“Fresh foods aren’t enough to feed the entire global population. It is a commitment of food service to do so (feed the world) in a sustainable manner,” she said. EFE

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