Malnutrition in Mexico: It's Harder to Get Food

In Mexico, problems from both developing and industrialized countries coexist, such as a lack of food access, malnutrition, obesity, and diabetes.

Malnutrition in Mexico: It's Harder to Get Food
Food is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Photo by william f. santos / Unsplash

Humanity is facing a complex dynamic from which Mexico is not exempt; that is, the return to a "new normality" in which the SARS-CoV-2 virus persists, and the consequences of the war between Russia (an important industrialist and world exporter of fertilizers) and Ukraine (one of the main producers of cereals on the planet), which leads to an increase in the cost of agro-industrial inputs and, consequently, an impact on food prices.

According to Uberto Salgado Nieto, a specialist at UNAM's Institute of Economic Research (IIEc), this situation has repercussions on the pockets of the population, particularly those who have the least. In the last 21 years, the value of food products hasn't gone up, and the quantity and quality of their inputs have gone down.

In Mexico, the food issue is a complex phenomenon because the problems of underdeveloped countries coexist with those of the first world. For example, Mexico has a lot of people who are malnourished and can't get food, but we also have one of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes.

Based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), says Salgado Nieto, approximately 3.7 percent of the Mexican population is severely food insecure, but if we add the decrease in quantity and quality, the figure rises to 26 percent. "In other words, almost a quarter of the population-33 million people, on average-face some level of food insecurity due to rising food prices."

Also, there is a lot of inequality and poverty in Mexico, although social support programs were very important during the pandemic and kept poverty levels from going through the roof.

But, "we still have a lot of Mexicans living in this situation," says the expert. "According to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy, about 46% of the Mexican population lives in this way, which makes them very vulnerable to the effects of rising food prices around the world."

Complicated times for food security

This panorama shows the complexity of the scenario at a time when we are adapting to this "new normality". The context shows that while 2020 was seen as a hard year for the economy because of restrictions on mobility, 2022 is seen as a hard year to talk about food security in Mexico and around the world because of what is going on in the world at the moment.

If the U.S. economy were to enter a recession, Mexico would suffer a contagion effect, which would deepen the problem of food insecurity precisely because of the loss of wages. "Under that context, the path to economic recovery would be more complicated and severe than what we are experiencing today. It would be necessary to strengthen the public policies of the current government and use a different economic strategy than the one being used now to speed up economic growth.

The package of measures against inflation and high food prices established by the current government seeks to grant exemptions to the importation of basic grains such as corn, a staple food in the diets of Mexicans, to avoid an inflationary escalation caused internally by insufficient domestic production to meet demand.

It seeks to generate agreements with corn flour-producing companies to control the increase in the price of tortillas and beans. It is important to make progress in the peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine to reverse the inflationary process that generates a domino effect on the global economy.

Many people in Mexico are suffering from the effects of malnutrition.
Many people in Mexico are suffering from the effects of malnutrition. Credit: UNAM

A decrease in health and malnutrition

The FAO states that the current level of food production in the world is sufficient to put an end to world hunger. However, the problem is the distribution and access to food. In other words, there is a part of the population that has trouble getting food because of the way the economy is set up. Poverty and inequality, for example, make it hard for some people to get food, which also makes them less healthy.

According to figures from the 2021 epidemiological bulletin issued by the Ministry of Health, the levels of mild malnutrition in the Mexican population increased by respect to 2020 by 18.8 percent. This means that almost one-fifth suffered from this deficiency from 2020 to 2021. During that time, severe or extreme malnutrition increased by 10.3 percent.

This data may be even higher because the percentages are underestimated since only the population attending health centers was considered.

As a result of the pandemic, the loss of employment, the lack of income suffered by Mexicans as of 2020, and now these inflationary processes, the possibility of acquiring foodstuffs is increasingly limited, which is shown by the higher levels of malnutrition among the Mexican population.

According to data from the 2020 National Survey of Household Income and Expenditures, nearly 47 percent of Mexican households expressed concern that there wasn't enough food for the family. 12.7 percent went hungry due to a lack of funding.

Given this complicated scenario for Mexico and the rest of the world, it would be impossible to reach the goal proposed by the FAO to end hunger by 2030. Therefore, this international organization should promote a policy of solidarity (as occurred with the Covax mechanism to ensure that all people on the planet have access to COVID-19 vaccines) in support of the populations that have the least, especially in Africa, severely affected by the ravages of climate change that cause significant crop losses.

Food is the basis of any economic system because it is the main input of the workforce, which drives the economic system. It is therefore important that people have access to healthy and quality food because it is a fundamental right of any human being.

World Food Day, which is commemorated on October 16, is a date to remember the importance of eating in a healthy and balanced way, in favor of the health of individuals. "A well-nourished and healthy person can better absorb knowledge," he says.

The event was proclaimed in 1979 by the FAO to raise awareness of the world's food problem and strengthen solidarity in the fight against hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. The day is the same as the day this international organization was started in 1945.