ICFJ Health Trainee Uncovers Disturbing Health Trends in Mexico

Oct 152008

Translated by Isaac Itman, former ICFJ Program Officer

Cynthia Baigts, an ICFJ participant in a July training program on health journalism in Ixtapan de la Sal, Mexico, put into practice lessons learned at this workshop with a cutting article revealing disturbing health trends in Mexico. The workshop was sponsored by Pfizer and included 30 journalists from seven different Mexican states. In an effort to raise awareness about the importance of preventive health care measures, Baigts wrote this article in Spanish for Revista Salud y Cuidados del Bebé, a Mexican health magazine focusing on nutrition, women’s health and prenatal care. The text below is a synopsis and translation of the original article.

What’s going on with Mexicans’ health today?

Never before has preventive medicine been more important in Mexico. Yet, preventive medicine faces great challenges due to the widespread problems of obesity, sedentary lifestyles, hypertension, pre-diabetes and diabetes and unhealthy practices such as addictions to smoking and alcohol.

Since Mexico has the second-most obese population in the world, it is important to understand that good eating habits from infancy will pay off in the long run. Right now, Mexico has the highest rate in the world of obese children between the ages of 10 and 15. Obesity can be a precursor to several types of metabolic illnesses such as pre-diabetes and diabetes, as well as the hardening of the arteries and heart disease.

Though it may seem incredible given advancements in medicine and treatment, chronic illness is shortening the lives of Mexicans. For example, in 2000, 41.7 percent of men and 51 percent of women died due to diabetes in Mexico. And in 2006, those numbers increased to 54.6 percent in men and 63.9 percent in women.

Despite the fact that Mexicans are living longer, regular visits to the doctor, annual Pap tests, mammograms, an exercise regime, visits to the cardiologist and blood tests to detect cholesterol and sugar levels are necessary preventive health care measures given the diseases that currently shorten the lives of Mexicans.

Healthy lifestyles have been scientifically proven to effectively prevent illness. Healthy habits include losing weight, reducing salt and sugar intake, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake. Also, eating a low-fat diet is associated with weight loss and, if undertaken over a period of three years, significantly lowers the risk of diabetes and improves blood pressure.