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Case Study: Mexico

When Wealth Does Not Bring Health

December 15, 2017
Plain English Version

Lunch at Sam’s Club. Photo Credit: Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

Poor people in poor countries want to have what rich people in rich countries have. But they say, “Wait, I do not want to be fat and diabetic!”

But that is often what happens. Mexico is an example. Mexico was a poor country. Most of its people lived a rural life. They grew vegetables and fruit. They made their own meals. Still, it was a poor country.

About thirty years ago Mexico decided to join the world economy. They let foreign companies into the country. Mexico joined with Canada and the United States to form Nafta. It is a trade agreement. The goal is the free flow of goods without tariffs (taxes) throughout North America.

Mexicans began moving off the farms and into the cities. Soon, U.S. food companies found huge new markets in Mexico. Mexican families started getting more of their meals from fast food chains such as McDonald’s. The result is a great rise in obesity among Mexicans. And obesity leads to diabetes.

Businesses exist to make money. It is not surprising that food would be a moneymaker. Walmart and Coca-Cola began investing in Mexican food companies. The goal was to turn raw food into processed food. And resell it as Big Macs and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Processed food contains salt, fat, and sugar. These ingredients make mouths water. The idea is to addict people to products like Diet Coke. And the strategy works.

This is how one Mexican community leader sees things. Diabetes touches most households. Locals seem to favor processed food and soda. They prefer these processed items to the fruits and vegetables that grow all around them.

He said, “American food and products dominate our lives. Everyone is sad about the changes but, at the same time, we still go to Sam’s Club and McDonald’s.”

It is the kind of food people eat that leads to obesity and diabetes. It is happening all over the world. Is it the price of modernization? The answer seems to be yes.

Is free trade to blame? The answer is also yes. But free trade brings positive things as well. It raises the incomes of workers. It improves economies. It brings consumer products and other items people like. It brings better health care if not always better health.

Source: The New York Times December 11, 2017


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