MEXICO CITY – While touring southern Chiapas state last month, Mexico’s coronavirus czar took aim at a vice he considers culpable for the country’s pandemic problems: rampant soda consumption
Health Undersecretary Hugo López-Gatell tried to connect soda consumption with COVID-19 deaths, blaming sugar for causing comorbidities such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension – maladies common in Mexico, where almost three-quarters of the population is overweight, according to a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“Why do we need bottled poison in soft drinks?” López-Gatell asked. “Health in Mexico would be very different if we stopped being deceived by these lifestyles sold on television and heard on radio and which we see on adverts – as if this was happiness.”
As COVID-19 cases mount and the death toll soars – Mexico trails only Brazil and the USA in pandemic fatalities – López-Gatell and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador have pinned Mexico’s pandemic problems on its poor nutrition habits – soda consumption chief among them.
Mexicans drink more soda per capita than any other country – about 163 liters per year. Bottlers such as Coca-Cola deliver products to the remote corners of the country – where potable water is scant and soda is often sold for less than water.
López-Gatell and López Obrador equivocate on the effectiveness of wearing face masks, but they’ve expressed fewer doubts on the negative impact of junk food and soda and its connection to COVID-19 fatalities.
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“The evidence is very clear, but there are many interests, which have led to information being covered up in other administrations,” said López-Gatell, who claimed sugary drink consumption claimed 40,000 deaths annually in Mexico. “With products that do damage, we have to discourage their consumption so that fewer people are unhealthy.”
López-Gatell has been criticized for his handling of the pandemic. He has not tested widely for the coronavirus or conducted contact tracing as the death toll passed 60,000.
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López Obrador has peddled self-help lists as the pandemic worsens – with tips such as eating a “traditional diet” of corn, rice and beans, avoiding consumerism and finding spirituality. He’s spoken favorably of families acting as a social safety net rather than announcing robust economic relief packages.
“Dr. López-Gatell has decided to adopt a new strategy: find scapegoats,” said Malaquías López-Cervantes, public health professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “It’s a pretext because the fact that sugary drinks contribute to gaining weight and obesity in Mexico is nothing new.”
Mexico’s beverage industry shot back…