An Obese City

The Guardian has been running a series on Mexico which, amongst other things has covered Mexico’s huge, and growing, obesity problem. Mexico was the first country in the world to recognize the important role that sugar, particularly in the form of soft drinks, plays in the develpment of obesity and diabetes. This article describes the sugar tax that Mexico has levied in an attempt to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and foods.

Mexico is well on the way to coming the fattest county in the world and its 2006 health survey revealed that the prevalence of diabetes, the countries biggest killer, doubled between 2000 and 2006!  The health survey also showed that soda intake had more than doubled among adolescents between 1999 and 2006, and nearly tripled among women. The then Mexican secretary of health – José Ángel Córdova Villalobos – decided that the situation could not be allowed to continue and asked the leading Mexican nutritional scientist – Juan Rivera, the founding director of the Centre for Research in Nutrition and Health at Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health – to help him solve the developing crisis. His recommendation was simple, reduce the consumption of sugary drinks.

” As Mexico began to grapple with obesity, and soda’s role in it, the industry began to counterattack with the argument it uses everywhere that soda is under siege. “Obesity comes from taking in more calories than you spend,” said Jaime Zabludovsky, chair of the board of ConMexico, the processed food and beverage producers’ group. “If Michael Phelps eats 5,000 calories a day and swims 10km, there is no problem. If you eat 2,000 calories per day but don’t move, you have a problem. The source can be soda, tortillas, chocolate, sandwiches, fritanga, bagels – there is not any product that in itself causes obesity.”

The idea of balancing calories in with calories out is now the mantra of the soda industry worldwide. An active lifestyle is the solution – not dietary change, and certainly not soda taxes.”

However, the article makes the same point I have made many times before, that exercise is ineffective for weight management. You simply cannot burn enough calories off by exercise to make any impact on your weight and in fact the fitter you are, the SLOWER you basal metabolic rate will be, and fewer calories will be needed just to keep you ticking over. You cannot out-run a bad diet. Furthermore, as William Banting discovered in 1863 (see previous posts), exercise  increases the appetite and encourages you to eat more.

Today they are covering Mexico City and again the focus is on obesity. 56% of the City’s population is either overweight or obese. However, the article appears to suggest that the focus on removing sugary drinks from 2006 hasn’t worked or maybe unproven:

“Between 2000 and 2012, adult obesity has shown a steady upward trend in the capital, where it affected 16% of the city population in 2000, 19% in 2006, and 26% in 2012. In 2012, more women (28%) than men (24%) were found to be obese in central Mexico City, while 35% of children aged five–11 were either overweight or obese.”

And that, in fact, it is difficult to understand what it is that Mexicans are actually putting in their mouths but it is much easier to understand their exercise patterns:

“However, while the precise nature of the city’s dietary problems is hard to pin down, the picture regarding physical activity is much clearer. Put simply, the Federal District is the most sedentary state in the country.”

Really? How is that then? Mexico City dwellers can acurately remember how much exercise they take but not what they have eaten? The author then uses the article to argue that it is the urban environment that is a prime factor in Mexico City’s obesity explosion and that if only the environment could be redeveloped to encourage physical activity, then exercise would simply take place and weight loss would occur. I am not so sure, but then I am a Personal Trainer and I know about exercise and losing weight, whereas she is an economist whose research focuses on public health policy and urban development.

Interestingly, in an earlier paper from this year, the same author also says:

“The main cause of overweight and obesity is energy imbalance, which is a poor diet combined with little or no physical activity”

But without citing anything that would support this statement although it looks strikingly similar to what the soft drinks companies are saying.

Anyway, I am going to Wahaca tonight for a lovely Mexican dinner, but I will be drinking margaritas, not coke.


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