MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s more than 120 million people are more vulnerable to the COVID-19 coronavirus because of high incidence in the Aztec national of chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension, experts said on Wednesday.
“It is not by chance that the five cases of death that have presented in Mexico are associated with metabolic syndrome,” Dr. Abelardo Avila, of the Salvador Zubiran National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition, told a press conference in the capital.
The metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that boost the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
The government’s chief epidemiologist, Jose Luis Alomia, said on Tuesday that each of the five COVID-19 fatalities suffered from underlying conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, kidney malfunction and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Several of those maladies have become widespread in Mexico due to increased consumption of highly processed foods, according to Alejandro Calvillo, director of the organization El Poder del Consumidor (Consumer Power).
“It’s necessary to go farther with obesity and diabetes policies, as obesity is causing more deaths per year than COVID-19, but we haven’t acted in that regard,” he said.
Paulina Magaña, a researcher with El Poder del Consumidor, said that an estimated 96 million Mexicans – more than 70 percent of the population – are either overweight or obese, leading to upwards of 200,000 deaths annually.
Diabetes, which affects just over 12 million people in Mexico, claims more than 100,000 lives every year.
The speakers agreed that a person suffering from a chronic illness will be more likely to experience serious complications if he or she contracts the coronavirus.
Other potential aggravating factors among Mexicans are food insecurity and lack of access to clean water.
“Mexico finds itself in a disadvantageous position, but that’s not a reason to panic, rather we should reinforce measures,” Ana Larrañaga, coordinator of the anti-obesity group Coalicion ContraPESO, said during the news conference.
She said that the pro-health public policies already adopted by Mexico, including taxes on sugary drinks and warning labels on products with high sugar content, will pay dividends.
And while the food and beverage industry continues to complain about those steps, Larrañaga said that it “would be a mistake at this moment to weaken any policy to stop chronic illnesses.”
Mexico has more than 400 confirmed cases of COVID-19.