Researchers call for action to protect Mexican kids from food marketing around schools

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / celsopupo
© Getty Images / celsopupo
Advertising of food and beverages around schools in Mexico often features unhealthy products, with almost 70% not in compliance with recommendations from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

New data published in the open access journal BMC Public Health​showed that children from low-income families attending public school were more likely to be exposed to such messaging, compared to children in private schools.

Despite recent regulation banning unhealthy foods in Mexican schools, no such regulations target advertising around schools. Analysis of marketing around schools in Cuernavaca and Guadalajara indicated that printed posters were often used to advertise sugar-sweetened beverages, sweet breads, candies, and bottled water.

“[S]ugar-sweetened beverages and sweet snacks comprised a major component of these advertisements (66.5%), and as observed in studies from other countries,”​ wrote researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health and Harvard University. “In Mexico, this is a public health concern of major relevance, since Mexico is the highest per capita soda consumer in the world, showing a high prevalence of childhood obesity and diabetes as the leading cause of mortality.

“Our results support the importance of monitoring the obesogenic environment and identifying ways to protect children from food marketing not only inside elementary schools but also around them, particularly children from public schools and low-income neighborhoods who may be more exposed to food marketing than children from private schools and better-off neighborhoods.

“As in other public health policies, planning should consider potential unintended effects and design mechanisms to prevent them. In this particular case, a coordinated local action aligned to the federal policies is necessary to avoid marketing strategies aimed at maintaining consumption of unhealthy foods by children at schools.”

Self-regulatory efforts

Efforts to reduce childhood obesity across Latin America include PAHO recommendations that limit marketing or communication of food and beverages that are high in fats, sugars, or salt to children. PAHO also recommends that no marketing communications should occur in places where kids gather and spend time such as schools and parks, explained the authors of the new study.

Despite the existence of such recommendations, there are no regulations specific to the marketing of food and beverage to children in Mexico.

A food industry initiative called PABI (Publicidad de Alimentos y Bebidas Dirigidas al Público Infantil) launched in 2009 to address the issue, which established 30 ethical norms. However, the self-regulatory effort has been criticized as inadequate when compared with the PAHO recommendations.

Study details

Candy & Soda © Getty Images happy_lark
Posters were often used to advertise sugar-sweetened beverages, sweet breads, and candies to children around schools. Image © Getty Images / happy_lark

For the new study, the researchers collected data from a random sample of elementary schools in Cuernavaca and Guadalajara.

The results showed that a significantly higher number of advertisements were found around public schools than private schools, and these were advertising sugar-sweetened beverages, sweet breads, candies, and bottled water.

One-third of the posters also included promotions including special prices or gifts.

“Food advertising practices were often in compliance with industry recommendations (83%) but not with those from the PAHO (32%),” ​said the researchers.

“A number of policies aimed at reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by children in particular and by the population in general have been developed recently, such as the healthy hydration recommendations, the national agreement for healthy nutrition, the guidelines for healthy nutrition inside schools, and the soda tax.

“However, our study documents the need for additional actions to effectively reduce sugar-sweetened beverage and unhealthy food consumption by children,” ​concluded the researchers.

Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages

Numerous countries around the world​ are exploring the idea or have imposed taxes on the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Other LatAm countries that have imposed taxes on sugary beverages include Mexico, Chile, Barbados and Dominica. In Mexico, which introduced a 1 peso per liter soda tax in 2014, an analysis published in Health Affairs in March 2017​ found that the 5.5% drop in the first year after the tax was introduced was followed by a 9.7% decline in the second year.

Chile imposed a tax on sugary beverages in September 2014 and reduced the tax for non-sugary beverages, while Barbados and Dominica levied a 10% excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in 2015.

Source: BMC Public Health
2018, 18​:461, doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-5374-0
“The obesogenic environment around elementary schools: food and beverage marketing to children in two Mexican cities”
Authors: S. Barquera et al.

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