Mexico's Oaxaca state bans sale of junk food to children

MONTERREY, Aug 5 (Reuters) - The southern Mexican state of Oaxaca banned the sale, distribution and advertising of junk food and sugary drinks to children on Wednesday, becoming the nation’s first state to do so.

Members of Oaxaca’s congress broke into applause after approving the measure, which aims to improve child health in a country with high rates of diabetes and obesity.

“We pushed for this transformation so children have a healthy nutrition that is adequate for their well-being and their development, instead of consumption habits that are dictated by interests of industry,” said Oaxacan congresswoman Magaly Lopez in a speech to the state’s legislative body.

Mexicans have long struggled with high rates of obesity and diabetes, and the novel coronavirus has hit people suffering from those illnesses particularly hard.

Mexico has the third highest coronavirus death toll worldwide, with 48,869 fatalities and 449,961 known cases.

“Beverages that contain added sugars, such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, are associated with increased risk of weight gain and, as a result, development of overweight and obesity, as well as diabetes,” said a 2015 study by the Pan American Health Organization, cited by Oaxacan legislators in the bill.

Obesity reached epidemic proportions in Mexico after it joined the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada in the early 1990s, making processed food more easily available, several studies have shown.

After heart disease, diabetes is the most common cause of health-related death in Mexico.

Mexico is now the largest consumer of ultra-processed food in Latin America and the fourth-largest in the world. Some 75.2% of the population aged 20 or older is either overweight or obese, government data shows, up from 71.3% six years earlier. (Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Anthony Esposito and Richard Pullin)