Mexico, protecting minors from junk food. Bans are triggered

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The fight against junk food and sugary drinks continues in Mexico in an effort to stem the epidemic of obesity and related diseases, diabetes foremost among them. Several states in the Mexican federation have introduced bans in recent weeks on the sale and serving of HFSS(High in Fats, Sugar and Sodium) foods and sugary drinks to minors. Drastic and urgent measures also aimed at reducing the impact of Covid-19 on the health of populations.

Mexico, obesity, and nutrition policies

Obesity and overweight in Mexico affect 34% and 73% of the population, respectively. According to OECD (2020) projections, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) related to overweight and obesity will reduce the life expectancy of Mexicans by more than 4 years in the next three decades. In addition to worsening its quality, with serious and chronic diseases that are also the cause of various forms of disability. And even more worrying is the growth in childhood obesity, which has doubled in twenty years (from 7.5 percent to 15 percent, between 1996 and 2016). (1)

Mexico’s federal legislature has therefore committed itself to adopting cutting-edge nutrition policies, with support from WHO and UNICEF among others:

A tax on sugary drinks (
soda tax
) was introduced in 2014,

the requirement to include special warnings on the front of labels about excessive levels of calories, sugar, sodium, saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids(#EtiquetadoClaroYa!) was introduced in 2020.

Junk food and Covid emergency

However, nutrition policies to date have been insufficient to discourage junk food consumption and promote consumer information about the risks related to unbalanced diets. Mexico remains the top consumer in Latin America of ultra-processed foods, including sugary drinks (UNICEF, 2020). (2)

Serious and lethal complications of Covid-19 infections-associated comorbidities that recur among obese people-have, after all, a marked prevalence, in Mexico as in the US. (3) Several states in the federation are therefore activating emergency measures.

Protecting minors from junk food

The Mexican states of Oaxaca and Tabasco have already introduced-and those of Mexico City, Colima, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, and Tamaulipas are considering introducing-special reforms to the Ley de los Derechos de Niñas, Niños y Adolescentes. With the goal of reducing minors’ exposure to junk food and sugary drinks (other than dairy). The new regulations include multiple measures including:

– Prohibitions on the sale, donation, distribution, and serving of pre-packaged sugary drinks, carbonated sugary drinks, sweets, and foods with trans fatty acids or excessive sugar content to persons under 18 years of age,

– Prohibition of the consumption of the said foods in schools, as well as educational centers and health facilities,

– Removal of vending machines in educational centers, public and private hospitals, clinics and in health centers,

– Prohibition of advertising and other promotional forms of sugary drinks and junk food to minors. With a ban on promoting the said products within a 300-meter radius of any educational, medical, and hospital center. And an increase in the fees to be charged for advertisements of the said foods, + 25%, in the permitted spaces.

The weaknesses of the measures

The aforementioned measures, although commendable, may not be enough to achieve the goals pursued. The weaknesses to be considered, in the writer’s humble opinion, are as follows:

– lack of harmonization, territorially but especially in identifying foods to be subject to restrictive measures. Nutritional profiles suitable for distinguishing HFSS products should at least be harmonized at the federal level, possibly in line with WHO(World Health Organization, WHO) recommendations,

– limiting the opportunities for offerings to minors does not exclude the possibility of junk food purchase by adults. Who often, even in Low-Middle Income Countries (LMICs), buy foods of little nutritional value simply because they are cheaper than fresh, healthy foods. This is in fact the
double burden of malnutrition.

Brief notes

Nutrition policy, in Mexico as in any other country, should come focused on supply. With suitable measures to:

– Disincentivize the marketing of all HFSS foods, with purpose fees and bans on all forms of advertising. So as to stimulate widespread reformulation (i.e., recipe modification) of foods that are hazardous to public health. By improving, precisely, their nutritional profiles,

– Introduce measures to support families with lower spending capacity by promoting their access to fresh and healthy food. Including through free distribution programs and incentives for agroecology players to develop short, fair and sustainable supply chains. As recommended by the FAO itself.

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) OECD (2019), The Heavy Burden of Obesity: The Economics of Prevention, OECD Health Policy Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/67450d67-en

(2) UNICEF Mexico. What are we waiting for? Child obesity in Mexico presents an urgency that demands immediate change. 4.3.20, https://www.unicef.org/stories/what-are-we-waiting-for-obesity-mexico

(3) Public Health England. Excess weight and COVID-19: insights from new evidence. 7/24/20, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/excess-weight-and-covid-19-insights-from-new-evidence

(4) See example AlterBanc in Catalonia, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/progresso/alterbanc-agroecologia-e-spesa-sociale-in-catalogna