Neoliberal obesity and coronavirus in Mexico | Health

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In August, the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico banned the sale of junk food and sugary drinks to children under the age of 18.

Mexico ADeputy Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell, who has denounced soda as “bottled poison”, expressed support for the new law, which has start also to be taken in other Mexican states.

Lopez-Gatell is also the government czar coronavirus, and very early on underlined the role of the country ” epidemic“Of diabetes and obesity in the worsening of the coronavirus pandemic. Mexico has reportedly recorded more than 70,000 COVID-19-related deaths to date – though the actual toll is likely to be high higher.

In recent years, Mexico has rivaled with the United States for the title of the most obese nation on earth – three quarters of adults are overweight and at least one in 10 has diabetes.

Oaxaca, one of the poorer Mexican states, has among the highest obesity rates and the highest childhood obesity rate in the country.

I have been in Oaxaca since March and can confirm that – as is the case with much of Mexico – it sometimes seems impossible to take a step without tripping. Coca Cola advertisements or similar propaganda.

Indeed, Mexicans drink more soda per capita than any other country in the world, and former Mexican President Vicente Fox was once the CEO of Coca-Cola Mexico. In 2017, diabetes became the number one killer.

How, then, did Mexico find itself in such a murderous position?

To answer this question, a good place to start is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico, which came into effect in 1994 – and was recently reconditioned as something much better than NAFTA under the auspices of resident continental megalomaniac Donald Trump.

Behind the ever-practical facade of “free trade” – which, in contexts involving the United States, generally means that the United States is free to do whatever it wants while the rest of the participating countries are free to do so. suck – NAFTA allowed the United States to flood the country. Mexican market with sugary drinks, processed foods, and other staples of a noxious, business-led existence.

American fast food chains and convenience stores quickly proliferated and, as the New York Times notes in a report titled A nasty surprise linked to NAFTA: Growing obesity in Mexico, Walmart was the country’s largest food retailer in 2017. This in a country with traditional cuisine appears on UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

“Food”, of course, is another term which should be used loosely to refer to products largely devoid of nutritional value which are, in fact, addictive and hazardous to human health.

Certainly, one of the major achievements of NAFTA has been the exposure of sectors of the Mexican economy to conquest by American capital, as with the dismantling of restrictions on majority foreign ownership in Mexican companies.

A 2016 paper in the Washington University Journal of Law & Policy states that the foreign direct investment facilitated by the United States under NAFTA in Mexico has been the “most direct contributor to the spread of noncommunicable diseases” like obesity in this country. country.

U.S. direct investments in Mexican food and beverage companies skyrockets billions because of the 1994 agreement, exerting an additional toxic influence on the choices of Mexican consumers – who do not really qualify as ‘choices’ when, for example, Coca-Cola is just as cheap and often more readily available than water.

The paper, which also examines global trends in “McDonaldization” and “coca colonization,” cites the calculation that US exports to Mexico after NAFTA high fructose corn syrup – a high-calorie sweetener used in sodas and other products and linked to obesity – had so far been “863-fold”.

NAFTA also provided imperial entities with a legal apparatus to rule in the name of hypocrisy, such as when the American food company Cargill Inc succeeded. sued the Mexican government after Mexico attempted to tax the production and sale of soft drinks fortified with high fructose corn syrup.

The United States, for its part, was allowed to subsidize happily overproduction in its own corn industry – not to mention its meat industry, soybean industry, etc. – leading, less shockingly, to a devastation of Mexican national production.

So much for “free trade”.

Ultimately, anyway, the function of US-led neoliberal globalization is to destroy not only cuisines and cultures, but also lives and livelihoods. By unleashing its industrialized agricultural system against Mexico, the United States has led to ruin and displacement millions Mexican farmers, unable to compete in a hostile environment.

Many had to migrate to the cities, where they subsisted on processed foods rather than following a traditional local diet, both because of economic constraints and because – surprise surprise – much of the good stuff was being exported in the United States, which, as a result of NAFTA, found itself the victim of a year-long influx of fresh fruit and vegetables grown in the warmer climates of the neighbor to the south.

Many Mexicans have also been forced to travel to the northern United States themselves in search of financial salvation – often as “illegal” workers, as lawyers have more rights than certain categories of humans. in terms of crossing the US-Mexico border.

Of course, Mexico is not the only place to have been subjected to a poisoned neoliberal regime. The New York Times written: « Research shows that free trade is among the key factors that have accelerated the spread of nutrient-poor and highly processed foods from the West, “fueling the obesity epidemic in China, India and others. developing countries. worldwide,’ according to the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard. «

And there are a lot of related capitalist machinations that negatively affect global nutrition. The documentary Couscous: Seeds of dignity, by Tunisian geographer and academic Habib Ayeb, for example, shows how lucrative export crops are grown in Tunisia to the detriment of the masses and to the enrichment of a few.

In the film, Tunisian farmers describe how local seed varieties have been replaced by imported varieties of lower quality, contribute to a landscape of agricultural neocolonialism and an assault on food sovereignty. One of the documentary’s protagonists – named, ironically, Eisenhower – opposes the chemicals “that we import [that] killed the soil ”, and the efforts of the West to“ kill our agriculture ”.

In 2018, meanwhile, Jose Graziano da Silva, then Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was talking the key role of the globalized food system in the “global obesity pandemic”, which he said should be tackled through various initiatives, including restrictions on junk food advertisements aimed at children.

Which brings us back to this other pandemic called coronavirus – and Oaxaca’s new junk food ban.

And what do you know: One of the reasons the American junk food industry has targeted Mexico so aggressively is that – although American companies are certainly not hungry on the national stage – the United States restrictions on food advertising aimed at children means that “companies are looking around the world to see where the legal framework still allows them to sell to children, and they are doubling”.

This last citation is Alyshia Galvez, author to eat NAFTA: trade, food policies and the destruction of Mexico, which also points out that in Mexico, historically, “you just don’t see diabetes “among people who consume milpabased diet. Rather, diabetes is a “product of an industrialized diet”.

To be sure, the incidence of diabetes in Mexico exploded after the passage of NAFTA, and – as with the coronavirus – the disease disproportionately afflicts poor people.

But while Oaxaca’s intentions are undoubtedly noble, it’s hard to imagine how to ban the provision of junk food to people under the age of 18 by anyone. except parents will improve a situation in which many parents Already known to feed their kids soda and other unhealthy items on a regular basis – because these items are the most affordable, and they’re being pushed down Mexico’s throats by Imperial marketing programs.

Enrique Cifuentes, village doctor of Zipolite in Oaxaca, stressed to me the importance of recognizing that people are products of their food environment, and the problem of obesity in Mexico cannot be reduced to a lack of food discipline. .

He just lost almost 20 pounds himself – an excess of weight he credits Regular patronage of American fast food establishments – Cifuentes went on to point out that small stores in Oaxaca would suffer much more than large chains (often backed by the United States) because of the ban, another less than exhilarating. news in the context of a severe induced coronavirus economic crisis.

For darker news, look no further than a recent Washington Post sending quoting Barry Popkin, obesity researcher at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, on the effects of the coronavirus on the global obesity epidemic:

“Covid is accelerating it. We see new lines of junk food introduced, companies are giving out junk food for free and calling it disaster relief… It’s very stressful, so you go for comfort food and tasty food. take hold and we’re going to hit a food insecure world where people buy this food because it’s cheap.

Call it a vicious neoliberal cycle – in which life itself is scary cheap.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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