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Neoliberal obesity and coronavirus in Mexico

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In August, the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca banned the sale of junk food and sugary drinks to children under the age of 18.

Mexico's Assistant Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell, who has denounced soda as "bottled poison", expressed support for the new law, which has begun to catch on in other Mexican states as well.

Lopez-Gatell is also the government's coronavirus tsar, and early on highlighted the role of the country's "epidemic" of diabetes and obesity in exacerbating the coronavirus pandemic. Mexico has reportedly recorded more than 70,000 COVID-19 related deaths to date - although the actual toll is likely much higher.

In recent years, Mexico has vied with the US for the title of most obese nation on earth - three-fourths of adults there are overweight, and at least one in 10 have diabetes.

Oaxaca, one of the poorest Mexican states, has among the highest obesity levels and the highest child obesity rate in the country.

I have been in Oaxaca since March, and can confirm that - as is the case in much of Mexico - it sometimes seems impossible to take a step without tripping over Coca-Cola advertisements or similar propaganda.

Indeed, Mexicans drink more soda per capita than any other country in the world, and former Mexican President Vicente Fox was once the CEO of Coca-Cola Mexico. In 2017, diabetes became the nation's number one killer.

How, then, did Mexico end up in such a deadly position?

To answer this question, a good place to start is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada, and Mexico, which came into effect in 1994 - and was recently repackaged as something-way-better-than-NAFTA under the auspices of resident continental megalomaniac Donald Trump.

Behind the ever-convenient facade of "free trade" - which in contexts involving the US generally means the US is free to do as it pleases while the rest of the participating countries are free to suck it up - NAFTA enabled the US to flood the Mexican market with sugary drinks, processed foods, and other staples of noxious, corporate-driven existence.

American fast food chains and convenience stores rapidly proliferated, and, as the New York Times noted in a report headlined A Nasty, NAFTA-Related Surprise: Mexico's Soaring Obesity, Walmart was the country's largest food retailer as of 2017. This in a country whose traditional cuisine appears on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible........

© Al Jazeera

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