IATP logoNAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, has widened the obesity epidemic, according to a paper entitled “Exporting Obesity: How the US Farm and Trade Policy is Transforming the Mexican Food Environment” from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). The paper is available on the IATP website and is based on an article by the same name appearing in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. Its authors are Dr. David Wallinga, Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Sophia Murphy, Sarah E. Clark and Corinna Hawkes.

Trade liberalization policies that loosened rules to the benefit of agribusiness and food companies may be partly responsible for epidemic obesity and declining health throughout Mexico as more low-quality, calorie-dense foods are imported from the US, says the article’s authors. Their study shows the increase of obesity and overweight individuals in Mexico—a rise of 12 percent between 2000 and 2006—coincides with the adoption of NAFTA.

The resulting increased consumption of snack foods, soft drinks, processed dairy and meat products, combined with increased foreign direct investment of US corporations from production and processing to restaurants and retail, has changed the Mexican food environment and contributed to rising obesity rates nationwide in Mexico, says the report’s authors.

“What people eat depends heavily on what food products in their immediate environment are easiest and most accessible,” says IATP’s Dr. David Wallinga. “As Mexico’s food environment has come to resemble that of the US, with more ubiquitous sodas, processed meats and other processed snacks high in added fats and sweeteners, it’s no wonder that Mexico’s struggle with obesity and its related life-threatening problems—diabetes, stroke, heart disease—has become ‘Americanized’ as well.”