In bad shape

Argentina and Mexico face growing obesity problem and higher healthcare costs.

Latin America has experienced a nutritional transition over the past 30 years, transitioning from malnutrition to overweight to obesity. Causes of obesity are specific to each country, however, general reasons in Latin America include unhealthy diets, excess of calories, insufficient exercise and a sedentary life.

The main problem in Mexico is the popularity of junk food which is also highly available and at affordable prices. Mexico, which already has a 10% tax on non-alcoholic beverages with added sugar, plans to reduce confusion in food labelling. The government is planning reforms which would involve responsibilities from all three state levels, federal, regional, municipal and private companies with fines for those parties not complying with proper nutritional information.

A member of the Council of the Mexican Institute of Social Security believed the problem was also societal, “Until recently, obesity wasn’t recognised and in many social sectors it was considered that the chubby child was the healthiest and happiest in the family. Another consideration is that 10 million people in Mexico do not have drinking water in their homes, so what is left: fizzy drinks and beer. In Mexico, beer is cheaper than milk and Coca Cola is cheaper than orange juice.”

“Until recently, […] in many social sectors it was considered that the chubby child was the healthiest and happiest in the family.”

Member of the Council of the Mexican Institute of Social Security

A Professor of General Medicine stressed that time is running out, “This should be a priority for the state. The government is trying to better regulate the powerful food conglomerates. We need to combat the excess of soft drinks, sodas, carbonated drinks and processed flours in schools. The sedentary lifestyle forced by imposed lockdowns has caused even more obesity and weight gain.”

In Argentina, where obesity is considered the most common sign of malnutrition by the World Health Organisation (“WHO”). At present 67.9% of the adult population in the country is overweight. The main reason is physical inactivity coupled with a high calorie intake.

According to the World Food Programme, the COVID-19 aggravated food security conditions in Latin America. The severe impact of the virus in the region has significantly reduced the purchasing power of Latin American families which have lost access to quality products and resorted to less healthy options.

A nutritionist and professor at the University of Buenos Aires summarised, “There are many factors to which this problem may be due, one of the causes is the increase in childhood food consumption patterns and changes in lifestyle. Computers, cell phones, little exercise and food intake made from products high in fat, salt and sugars … it’s a terrible mix.”

“Computers, cell phones, little exercise and food intake made from products high in fat, salt and sugars … it’s a terrible mix.”

Nutritionist and professor, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Obesity makes insurance policies costlier throughout Latin America, particularly in Mexico where obesity is considered a risk factor on the same level as hypertension and diabetes. Private insurers like AXA aim to implement in Mexico, where 25% of the population lacks access to health insurance, a model already implemented in Africa and Asia based on partnering with local authorities to provide unlimited medical consultations for an annual fee of USD 137. This value-based payment systems aim to replace the traditional and highly inefficient fee-for-service to tackle problems like obesity, derived from a lack of preventive care and postponement of initial treatments.

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