Today’s New York Times has a story about how Mexico is trying to improve school food in an effort to help prevent childhood obesity.
By all measures, Mexico is one of the fattest countries in the world, and the obesity starts early. One in three children is overweight or obese, according to the government. So the nation’s health and education officials stepped in last year to limit what schools could sell at recess. (Schools in Mexico do not provide lunch.)
The officials quickly became snared in a web of special interests led by Mexico’s powerful snack food companies, which found support from regulators in the Ministry of the Economy. The result was a knot of rules that went into effect on Jan. 1.
“What’s left is a regulatory Frankenstein,” said Alejandro Calvillo, Mexico’s most vocal opponent of junk food, particularly soft drinks, in the schools. “They are surrendering a captive market to the companies to generate consumers at a young age.”
By all reports, schools in many Latin American countries sell candy and soft drinks in lieu of real food. Kids pretty quickly get used to the idea that those foods mean lunch, and eating them is normal. Never mind the effects of such diets on teeth—dental decay is increasing rapidly—and body weights.
By coincidence, I just received a paper from Brazilian investigators documenting the way soft drink companies are funding physical education activities in that country. That’s one way to deflect attention from aggressive marketing in schools and other venues.
Last year, Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and Kraft reported rising profits from overseas sales. With the U.S. market for their products flat or declining, companies are looking to developing markets for increased sales. Obesity is sure to follow.