By Douglas Fehlen
A Severe Health Crisis
In a troubling trend, rates of obesity among children in Mexico have tripled over the last three decades. Health and government officials now estimate that between one-quarter and one-third of Mexican youth are overweight or obese. Many young people who struggle with maintaining a healthy weight, of course, grow into overweight adults. As a result, Mexico unfortunately has among the highest rates of obesity in the world.
Chronic obesity can clearly have a major impact on an individual's health and quality of life, but its economic toll can also be crippling. Health experts suggest, for example, that up to one-third of Mexico's healthcare costs are directly related to obesity-related conditions like diabetes. Add in the loss of productive work time and other financial factors, and it's easy to understand why the epidemic has become a focus of attention for political leaders.
In January of last year, Mexican president Felipe Calderon launched a national initiative intended to help address the obesity epidemic. Soberly assessing the crisis Mexico faced, Calderon explained, 'Unfortunately, we are the country with the biggest problem of childhood obesity in the entire world.'
A centerpiece of the anti-obesity campaign is greater regulation of the types of foods that can be served in Mexican schools. Soft drinks, for instance, have been banned in elementary schools. Additionally, traditional tortas - sandwiches that are typically packed with greasy meats - can only be sold if they include healthier ingredients like beans, avocados, chicken and vegetables. Burritos and tacos have also been given the low-fat treatment.
Progressing, But Not Perfect
Despite measures to make sure that schoolchildren are eating healthier foods at school, some evidence of the freewheeling eat-anything past remain. Various brands of cookies, chips and candy are still available during school breaks. Officials insist, however, that manufacturers supplying these products have been forced to change how they are made. Chips, for example, are now baked rather than fried and cookies come in smaller serving sizes.
While Mexican officials have done their best to ensure that foods available to students are healthier, many less-nutritious temptations often lurk beyond a school's gates. Perhaps capitalizing on more-stringent dietary regulations in Mexico's 220,000 schools, many vendors sell unhealthy treats in nearby streets. Until officials learn how to regulate will power, many students will unfortunately continue to get their fill of unhealthy foods.
Learn about the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, new legislation that includes provisions designed to help schools in the U.S. make student lunches healthier.