Mexico faces a double challenge: to reduce the high rates of obesity and combat malnutrition. According to data from the United Nations Fund, one out of every 20 children under five years of age and one out of every three children between six and 19 years of age are overweight or obese, an indicator in which our country stands out worldwide.

Agustín Rojas Martínez and Uberto Salgado Nieto, academics from the Institute of Economic Research (IIEc), pointed out the above and added that malnutrition, a serious pathological condition, affects one out of every eight children under five years of age in Mexico.

Nevertheless, after 70 years, the problem of hunger persistently persists, especially at the world level, since there are close to one billion people suffering from chronic hunger; in seven decades we have not achieved "zero hunger", which is what has always been sought, said Agustín Rojas.

Agustín Rojas mentions that in the IIEc they have estimated that of the total national food production 2018-2019, 60 percent of the domestic supply corresponded to processed products, such as bagged salads, deep-frozen vegetables or seafood, canned vegetables, canned fish, among others; or ultra-processed, including most snacks, industrial pastries, cookies, sausages, instant soups, soft drinks, etcetera; the urban population is the one that consumes them the most.

It is worth mentioning that, globally, figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) indicate that approximately 672 million adults and 124 million children are obese, while 40 million children under five years of age are overweight. This is mainly due to a change in people's diets, especially those living in cities. The agency's study shows that in recent years, fast food has largely displaced home-prepared foods and also replaced important ingredients - such as fruits and vegetables - with flour, sugars, fats, and salt.

On the occasion of World Food Day, which is celebrated on October 16, experts comment that the articulation of the agrifood system must provide sufficient food and also quality in terms of nutrients. In this regard, Uberto Salgado states that the main distributors of these inputs and commercial chains at the national level define to a large extent the type of food that the population consumes, even from the sphere of agricultural production.

"There is a reason why Mexico imports a significant amount of corn, practically half of the grain. This is because the large distribution chains direct their production towards products such as berries and avocados, which are not necessarily related to the basic diet of the Mexican population, whose essential grain is corn," he says.

Rojas Martínez and Salgado Nieto agree that agrifood systems historically have to do with the possibility of having a greater food reserve in terms of quantity and variety. However, it was not until the first half of the 20th century that food was consecrated as a fundamental right in Mexico; in other words, that all people should have access to it.

In the country, of the agricultural land used to produce food, only 29 percent has an irrigation system, which means that most of it is rainfed. "Then it is the small producers who invest in a fairly high risk, as there is no guarantee that they can obtain a favorable yield due to environmental and climatic factors," adds Uberto Salgado.

This has forced us to reorient our spending on food, we must satisfy other basic needs such as housing and transportation to feed ourselves in the "best way", although in the end, this new food supply in Mexico, practically based on highly industrialized foods, is the trigger for the changes in the eating patterns of Mexicans and, consequently, the silent progress of these health epidemics we have today in the country, especially overweight and obesity, considers Agustín Rojas.

"This is a time bomb because, in the end, these problems will detonate public finances in terms of access to health, the cost of treating illnesses and, above all, it will also imply a decrease in the possibilities of national economic development by having an atrophied, sick and unproductive workforce, which will demand greater spending on health due to non-communicable diseases associated with poor nutrition," continues the university professor.

Food waste

In Mexico City, 561 tons of food are lost daily -70 percent edible-, which are distributed in the Central de Abasto, in addition to what is generated in large commercial chains, markets, and markets, says Uberto Salgado. Because of this, urban gardens were implemented as a measure to produce and consume local food and thus reduce waste; it is a project taken up in cities such as New York where they were established in marginal areas, to produce food for the most vulnerable population.

In Mexico City, a decade ago, some were established in Tlatelolco, as well as in the Doctores, Roma, and Coyoacán neighborhoods, among others. These spaces grow strawberries, huitlacoche, cherry tomatoes, red corn, blackberries, various aromatic and edible plants, lettuce, cucumber, quelite, and tomatoes, among other products.

COVID-19 and globalizing diet

There are millions of people in the world who seek to feed themselves in some way, the problem is that since the 1980s with the opening of trade, and especially when entering globalization, a dynamic prevails in which there is irrational use of resources, particularly food, emphasizes Rojas Martinez. Commemorating World Food Day has to do with the importance of adopting a balanced diet. The pandemic allowed us to observe the consequences of this globalizing diet that we lead, with hypercaloric consumption, and that the large distribution chains define it, emphasizes Uberto Salgado.

For Salgado Nieto, COVID-19 came to "strip a little" this deficiency in the diet of the world's population. "I think we would have seen a very different picture if we had had a more nutritious eating plan and not been so oriented towards the consumption of all these ultra-processed, high-calorie products. In this regard, Rojas Martínez explains that at the IIEC they are studying a new approach to explain the changes in the consumption pattern, without blaming the consumer, but rather showing that it is the industry and the excess of ultra-processed foods that are marketed that condition consumption.

Source: UNAM