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  • In March 2020 UNICEF warned that child obesity in Mexico was an emergency that required immediate action.

    In March 2020 UNICEF warned that child obesity in Mexico was an emergency that required immediate action. | Photo: EFE/ Mario Guzmán

Published 6 August 2020
Opinion

The country is the largest consumer of processed and sugary drinks in Latin America.

The Mexican state of Oaxaca banned on Thursday the sale of sugary drinks and high-calorie snacks to children, an unprecedented decision aimed at tackling obesity.

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The state congress approved the reform to article 20 of the children and adolescents' rights law, with a majority of 31 votes. The decision turns Oaxaca in the first state ever in Mexicos' history to legally prevent the consumption of junk food at an early age.

The law establishes fines, the closure of stores, and jail terms for re-offenders. Oaxaca state has the highest child obesity rate in the country, so the measure also includes banning the promotion of junk food and prohibiting vending machines in schools.

In March 2020, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned that child obesity in Mexico was an emergency that required immediate action since the country is the largest consumer of processed and sugary drinks in Latin America.

The UNICEF reported that the highest rates of this consumption are found among preschool-age children who eat about 40 percent of their calories in this way. Hence, a third of Mexican children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Furthermore, the United Nations agency emphasized that there was an "unhealthy environment that promotes obesity" supported in part by "aggressive marketing of food products to children."

"In a historic decision, the Oaxaca Congress prohibits the sale and consumption of sugary drinks to minors. Therefore, #Oaxaca will become the first entity in the country to protect the health of the entire population, through promotion and establishment, from an early age."

Mexican authorities have encouraged the population to rely on a healthy diet amid the COVID-19 pandemic because junk food associate diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular problems can worsen the coronavirus infection.

In this sense, the passing of the law was largely praised by legislators, scientists, and international organizations such as UNICEF. Still, on the other hand, it has sparked protests among the food industry.

Several companies such as The Coparmex; Canacintra; the National Chamber of the Restaurant Industry and Seasoned Food; the National Chamber of the Bread Industry; the Chocolate Association; and the National Alliance of Small Retailers said in a statement that although they value and support the well-being of the people the measure "this decision will have a huge economic impact on the value chain of the food industry."

The industry says that the law won't solve the obesity crisis but will encourage the informal sector and damage thousands of families who rely on junk food businesses to live.

Nevertheless, obesity takes away the lives of thousands of Mexicans every year. According to the National Institute of Public Health, 96 million out of the 126 million Mexicans are overweight or obese, and the disease kills 300.000 people each year.

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