Despite initiatives such as taxes on soft drinks and nationwide prevention campaigns, obesity rates are worsening among Mexicans of all ages.
The problem has an early beginning. Deficient dietary habits begin at six months of age, according to a specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Mexico, quoting the results of the 2016 National Poll on Health and Nutrition (Ensanut).
Salvador Villalpando said over one-third of infants aged six to 11 months consume sugared beverages, and it gets worse: 78% of four-year-olds are doing so.
Poor diets not only include drinks: pastries, cookies, sweet breads and desserts are consumed by 43% of infants six to eight months old, and by 87% of children aged two and three, said the head of the hospital’s gastroenterology and nutrition department.
The high intake of sweetened drinks and foods is reflected in a diet with 221 extra calories per day for children aged one and two. For two and three-year-olds, the additional daily calory count is up to 240.
In contrast, only 20% of children between six months and four years old eat vegetables, and just half eat fruit.
Such poor dietary practices, Villalpando explained, is reflected in two health issues that might seem opposite: obesity and anemia.
“Thirty-seven per cent of children between five and 11 years old are considered overweight and obese,” said the specialist, while observing that one and two-year-old infants “have a diet deficient in iron, and are thus considered anemic, negatively impacting their neurodevelopment.”
The Ensanut results show that over 36% of teenagers and close to three-quarters of adults are overweight or obese.
Yet four years after the implementation of a national health strategy to address both conditions, the survey showed that overweight among minors had increased by 1.4% and among adults by 1.3%.
Among those 18 and younger, it is men who are more obese, but of those 20 and older it is women that represent the larger proportion.
Geographically, obesity is close to 17% more prevalent in urban areas than in rural ones.
The study, published today, also found a slight increase in the prevalence of diabetes, present among 9.2% of the population in 2012 to 9.4% this year, with a slightly higher incidence among women and in urban areas.
Going hand in hand with a high sugar diet is a lack of physical activity. Ensanut found that only 17% of children between 10 and 14 years old exercise at least 60 minutes per day, while only 14% of adults older than 20 do so.
Among both groups, men were found to be more active than women.