Visualizing lessons learned in the global fight against obesity | 

Obese Chinese boys leap during an exercise to lose weight at a military training camp in Tianjin, China.
Obese Chinese boys leap during an exercise to lose weight at a military training camp in Tianjin, China.

Global health and development discussions often focus on lessons that the developed world can “teach” the developing world.

With the welcome decline in extreme poverty worldwide, many nations that once had to worry most about hunger now are struggling to combat the harm of over-eating, eating the wrong things and lack of physical activity.

In today’s post, we’ll be exploring how Mexico and the US can learn from each other in the fight against obesity.

Mexico is a hotbed of experimentation. As explored in a Humanosphere article last year, it recently began taxing junk food and sodas in an attempt to tackle its growing obesity problem.

Health policy wonks, researchers, advocacy groups, and the beverage industry are keeping close tabs on the situation to see what happens. The stakes for each of these groups are high—a recent Politico article theorizes that if the taxes succeed, this could re-invigorate the debate on soda tax in the US.

Last week, the chief financial officer of Coca-Cola FEMSA, the Mexico-based bottler, said that the entire beverage industry’s sales of sugar-sweetened beverages in Mexico had dropped by 5% to 7% following the enactment of the taxes in Mexico. Continue reading

What’s In A Strawberry? Poverty and Racism | 

Michael Valiant/Flickr

There’s nothing like sitting down at the table with a bowl of fresh berries from the store. Rinse them, maybe sprinkle a bit of sugar on top, and enjoy. Sweet and healthy.

What’s not to like?

Seldom do we consider where the berries come from. That’s where medical anthropologist Seth Holmes comes in.

A doctor and Assistant Professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Holmes spent months traveling and living with migrant farmworkers from Oaxaca, Mexico. He accompanied them across the desert border, all the way to farms in the Skagit Valley just an hour north of Seattle where they work bent over in the fields in harsh conditions – living in labor camp shacks, earning minimum wage or less, subject to racist taunts, and barred from promotions despite years of farm experience. His new book about all of this is called Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies.

And as we discuss in this conversation, the issues go full circle. While demand increases for organic food here at home, farmworkers are forced off their own farms in Mexico (which resemble the idyllic, nature-friendly farms we like to imagine) and migrate to the the United States because of our own economic policies, namely free trade agreements like NAFTA, which have flooded their country with subsidized American corn.

Do we, as a society, care about the people working speedily and skillfully to harvest our food – the very stuff that gives us life? The answer seems to be no. But with this book and other efforts to challenge the status quo, that all could be changing. Listen to learn how.

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Visualizing Mexico’s fight against obesity (and junk food) | 

Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Flickr, Ed Yourdon

Mexico recently beat out the United States, though just barely, for having the world’s biggest waistlines. Not coincidentally, the Central American nation is also one of the world leaders in soft drink consumption.

In response to these two unfortunate trends, Mexican lawmakers appear likely to pass a 5% tax on junk food and 8 percent on soda. Through this tax, the government aims to generate billions of dollars in tax revenue and curb a growing obesity epidemic.

There’s a global push to increase efforts against so-called noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like obesity, diabetes and heart disease – all of which are fueled by poor dietary or lifestyle behaviors.

The food and beverage industry has, since the beginning of this push against NCDs, pushed back against many efforts manufacturers see as singling out ‘fast food’ as bad food. So it is worth taking a closer look at how Mexico fares in its fight against fat. Continue reading

Mexico moves with elegance toward our dietary future – eating more bugs | 

As we’ve reported here before, the United Nations has encouraged all of us to expand our dietary range to include eating more insects.

Not by accident, like when they get ground into the peanut butter or embed themselves into a lettuce fold. No, the idea here is to help address the growing global need for more food and more sources of food. Bugs, it turns out, are big in protein and not that unusual to see on the menu in many cultures.

The Guardian reports that Mexico has taken this dietary admonition to heart, or gut, and has been able to succeed at moving it out of the realm of survival food (you know that goofy guy on TV who eats bugs in the wild) to haute cuisine. The story notes:

The San Juan market is Mexico City’s most famous deli of exotic meats, where an adventurous shopper can hunt down hard-to-find critters such as ostrich, wild boar and crocodile. Only the city zoo offers greater species diversity. But the priciest items in the market aren’t the armadillo steaks or even the bluefin tuna. That would be the frozen chicatanas – giant winged ants – at around $500 a kilo. Continue reading

What do trade policies and tostadas have in common? | 

Flickr, my_amii

Black bean tostada

More than you may think, as my Southern California Public Radio blogging colleague Leslie Berestein Rojas noted in her post “On Mexican Food, Farmers and NAFTA.”

According to a top chef, the North American Free Trade Agreement has “decimated”  Mexican agriculture — which is also endangering its rich and sophisticated culinary traditions. Yes, sophisticated. Just because you don’t know much more than tacos and beans doesn’t mean there’s not more to know.

As Leslie notes, UNESCO has designated Mexican food as having value as a cultural heritage. Let’s hope globalization doesn’t just turn that into Taco Time.