Lifestyle changes are hard to confirm in Mexico during the diabetes fight
Suppose you want to go to Mexico City to participate in the competition.
Dr. Tonatiuh Barrientos, an epidemiologist at the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, thinks this is a good idea – in theory. As a diabetes expert, he hopes to see more people in the Mexican capital go out to exercise to fight the disease.
But as a runner, he knows that Mexico City is not a place to jog easily. In a metropolis with a population of 22 million, only a few parks are available for people to operate.
“Look, this is a rather crowded street. It’s a very noisy street. It’s polluted,” Barrientos said, passing through the Tlalpan community between the office and his home. “Imagine now, try to convince yourself to go out and run.”
Runners in the wooded park of Viveros in Coyoacan, Mexico City. There is very little friendly space for runners in Mexico City. Altitude hinders movement, and some runners wear masks, and air quality tends to be poor. However, health officials urge people to exercise more.
This is a tough selling point. “I mean the only place where you actually run is on the sidewalk. You can’t run on the street because you might run over,” he said.
The sidewalk is an uneven mixture of broken cement boards and pebbles. Street vendors have set up small tables and carts to sell everything from electrical appliances to fried pork crisps.
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There are so many people who are even hard to walk fast.
How does diabetes become the number one killer in Mexico?
If you do manage to find a sidewalk, then the altitude of Mexico City combined with the smog and the possibility of being robbed makes people very excited.
Pork Tacos with French Fries: Fuel for the Mexican Diabetes Epidemic
“There are a lot of obstacles,” Barrientos said, passing through a low-hanging awning. “If you want to try running here, you need to deal with it.”
Professionally, Barrientos tracked a slow and steady upward trend in type 2 diabetes in Mexico. About 14 million Mexicans currently have diabetes – almost three times as many as the disease in 1990.
Barrientos said that health officials have long believed that patients have a responsibility to change their diet and exercise habits. They either did it or they couldn’t do it. He said it is now clear that addressing one of Mexico’s biggest health crises requires a higher level of change, including lobbying healthier public spaces where people can easily go out and exercise.
Sports equipment commonly placed in public parks in the Tlalpan area of Mexico City encourages residents to be more active.
“How do we change the world so that making healthy decisions is much easier than it is now?” he asked.
As the Mexican lifestyle has changed dramatically over the past 40 years, diabetes has mushroomed. For generations, diabetes was almost unheard of in Mexico. According to the World Health Organization, it is now the leading cause of death. Mexicans of indigenous origin have a genetic predisposition to this condition, making them more likely than Caucasians to develop it. However, the key driver of Mexico-and global-type 2 diabetes is still a person’s diet.
“This will of course raise a lot of questions about sustainable development,” he said. “You can really maintain a public health system, 17% of your population is diabetic? Especially if you are not prepared to control that type of diabetes.”
Some epidemiologists predict that by 2050, half of adults in the country may have diabetes during their lifetime.
In some cases, type 2 diabetes can be reversed by bariatric surgery. Uncontrolled metabolic disorders can have serious health consequences. It can cause blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure, and in some cases can lead to foot amputation.
Barrientos and others now say that the focus of Mexico’s diabetes prevention needs to shift from humiliating individuals to seeking new government policies to deal with this growing health crisis.
“For tobacco, we have faced the same thing for years. We try to encourage people to give up: because if you don’t stop smoking, you will die!” he said. “The only time we started to really change was when we said, ‘We will change the rules of the game.’ The more expensive, the less you are willing to spend your precious money on things that are not good for you.”
The Centro Historico neighbourhood in Mexico City sells a variety of fried snacks and soft drinks.
Meghan Dhaliwal / NPR
In order to reduce the consumption of soda, the government imposed a tax of pesos per peso on sugary drinks in 2014, which is equivalent to about 10 cents for a standard 2 liter bottle.
At that time, Mexico was the soda of per capita consumers in the world. In the 2015 regulatory filing, Coca-Cola said its annual consumption of beverages in Mexico exceeded 600 ounces per person per year, 8 ounces. This means that on average, every Mexican has two cola drinks a day. And this does not even include the consumption of Pepsi or other brands of soda.
Alejandro Calviello, head of consumer organization named El Poder del Consumidor, said sodas made Mexico sick.
He walked outside the office in Mexico City, pointing out that there are small shops selling Coca-Cola and junk food in almost every neighborhood. In fact, the red Coca-Cola logo has become a symbol of the declared snack bar.
“The Coca-Cola in Mexico has more than 1.5 million places to sell Coca-Cola,” Calviello said. “The existence of these products is everywhere.” Calviello was one of the advocates behind the 2014 soda tax, although he had hoped for higher taxes. He believes that higher taxes may further reduce consumption and provide the government with more resources to fight against diabetes-related lifestyles. He said that in the indigenous community of Chiapas, parents put Coca-Cola into the baby bottle. “The government has not done anything. It’s crazy.”
Like Barrientos, he said that if Mexico is to successfully fight diabetes, the rules of the game need to change.
However, his efforts to increase the soda tax have increased a lot, but so far there has been no success.
But Jorge Trasas, head of the ANPRAC of the Mexico City Carbonated Beverage Trade Association, said that soda was unfairly blamed on Mexico’s extremely high obesity rate and diabetes rate.
He told NPR: “There is no solid scientific evidence to prove the relationship between soft drink intake and overweight.”
Mexicans consume far more calories per day than the 2,000 calories recommended by the World Health Organization. Trass says most of the calories come from substances other than soda.
But anti-soap activists say sugar is an important part of the problem. They say that calling for a personal lifestyle-changing solution does not solve the diabetes crisis in Mexico.
Epidemiologist and rogue Barrientos said the solution needed to make major changes to the way Mexicans live, eat and exercise.