Wednesday, April 11, 2012

USA Makes Mexicans Fat?

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has posted an article blasting the following headline:
U.S. exports obesity epidemic to Mexico, says new study
Declining public health linked to NAFTA, and influx of low quality, processed foods
The U.S. exports obesity, not Mexico imports obesity. Mexico is not responsible for their behavior, the U.S. is. Oh the evil U.S. of A.!

The problem is that NAFTA has made American snack foods and processed meats more accessible to Mexicans. The horror of it all! This access has changed the Mexican diet! Why are Mexicans turning their backs on their proud heritage and forgoing traditional Mexican cuisine for fatty American fare? The article fails to state how it is that the U.S. makes people buy these products and eat them.

See how having a choice is bad for you? We must stop all this variety of products! We need a one-size-fits-all solution! No more choice! It is bad for you!

I find it difficult to be alarmed about people being fat when you consider the other end of the spectrum : starvation. Food is such a problem in North Korea that people are resorting to cannibalism. A society with fat people is less likely to have people resorting to cannibalism. Fat is a good problem.

The IATP recommends that "health impact assessments" should be done when drawing up trade agreements. You know. Predict what people will buy and whether or not it is good for them. I'm sure everyone will buy "New Coke." Olestra potato chips that promotes anal leakage. People will love it! Try as you might, you never know for sure what the people will clamor for.

All you need to know,if something bad happens somewhere, you can find a way to absolve "victims" of personal responsibility and pin the blame on the U.S.


  1. Your assessment is far too simplistic. To start the article was not as sensationalist as you have made it out to be here. It merely points to changing environment as being but one driver of obesity.

    Secondly, you see is as attacking people' choices- nowhere did it say this. You are right that it is about choice, but the issue is exactly the opposite of your argument. Trade gives people choice but mainly for bad foods, whilst displacing the markets for fresh produce and underpricing better foods. If Coca-Cola costs less than water and chips less than a piece of fresh fruit or vegetables (as it does in Mexico and many other countries) then a poor person will choose what is cheapest. Making the food environment better where healthy options are the easy (economic) choice will certainly help. Of course, some people will still pick the unhealthy stuff if they can afford it, but these will more likely be better off folk and for them, obesity interventions will be different.

    Finally, if a health assessment made as part of a trade-agreement and then used as a tool to steer international and domestic trade regimes into the direction of health instead of obesity (which is what it currently is), then exactly what is wrong with that?

  2. For anyone interested you can read the full report here