No more soft drinks, tortas, salted tamarind candy, pork rinds or atole, that thick and sweet cornstarch-based drink, similar to hot chocolate, in Mexican schools? What’s going on? Is this the Mexican version of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign?
Beginning next school year, assuming the new rules are approved, Mexico will ban all junk food from its 220,000 public and private elementary and middle schools, serving 25 million students.
President Felipe Calderon launched a nationwide anti-obesity campaign earlier this year, saying that the incidence of obesity has tripled in Mexico over the last three decades. “Unfortunately, we are the country with the biggest problem of childhood obesity in the entire world,” he announced. One study concluded that 26 percent of children between 5 and 11 are overweight. This compares to around 19 percent of the same age group in the United States.
Putting this crisis in perspective, the health minister, Jose Angel Cordova, said consumption of fruits and vegetables in the last 15 years had fallen by 40 percent, while consumption of sweet drinks rose by 50 percent. (Could this be the result of an unhealthy invasion from the U.S.? While kids used to eat fruit sprinkled with lime and salt, and drink fruit juices, they now delight in consuming prepackaged foods.)
But there are a few practical problems: Mexican schools don’t usually have cafeterias offering hot meals; instead, children crowd around vendors who sell junk food like chili-soaked sweets, fried tacos and other goodies on the school grounds.
Then there’s the exercise to go along with the diet: in April, the lower house of Congress approved a law to require daily exercise for all children, who currently get one class a week. However, about three-quarters of Mexican schools don’t have a playground or gym in which to exercise.
Whatever the results, it’s great that government officials, from the President down, are paying attention to this problem. Let’s hope all the talk will lead to some action!
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