MEXICO CITY – The junk food industry in Mexico operates in the manner of organized crime, controlling territories and benefiting from official corruption, a children’s advocacy group said on Monday.
Juan Martin Perez, executive director of the Network for Children’s Rights in Mexico (Redim), said the industry has fostered an environment that promotes obesity, especially by pushing its products in schools.
Junk food has become a vital source of profits for the industry, he said.
Mexico’s children are highly vulnerable amid a cultural dynamic that views them as targets of advertising and other efforts at influencing, which “allows many (bad) things to be normalized,” Perez said.
Teresa Shamah, deputy director of the National Institute of Public Health’s Center for Research in Evaluation and Surveys, pointed to a study showing that as of 2015, junk food continued to be sold in 51 percent of Mexican schools.
“Anything unhealthy should be kept out of schools and far from children. They are our future,” she said.
The specialist noted that 5.5 million school-age Mexican children are overweight or obese.
The proportion of overweight and obese youngsters in rural areas grew by 10 percentage points between 2012 and 2016, Shamah said, attributing the increase to lack of exercise, stress, sleep disorders and poor nutrition.
While Mexico has legislation regulating junk food, the laws are regularly flouted, she said.
Enrique Jacoby, a former adviser to the Pan American Health Organization, said that making junk food available in schools is “like having drugs within the reach of children.”
He said that while parents are ultimately responsible for teaching their children about nutrition, the school environment is very important, “so we should make a particular effort in this area.”
Against that backdrop, Redim and the organization El Poder del Consumidor (Consumer Power) have launched a campaign, “Let’s demand 100 percent junk-food-free schools.”
Goals of the initiative include persuading schools to offer natural, traditional foods; to stop selling processed foods, soft drinks and sugary beverages; and to supply adequate amounts of potable water.
Organizers also urge schools to bar junk food advertising on school premises.