July 27, 2009
Study: Free trade spreading obesity
An influx of U.S. junk food into Central America as part of relaxed trade rules has led to Central American obesity and related illnesses, a study said Monday.
Processed-cheese imports, for instance, have risen more than 3,000 percent, the two-university study found.
A sudden availability of processed, high-fat and high-sugar foods has created a
nutrition transition in Central American countries, the university researchers writing the journal Globalization and Health said.
A nutrition transition happens when foods rich in vitamins, minerals and micronutrients such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains are substituted by foods heavy in added sugar, saturated fat and sodium.
The trend affects developing countries importing foods from industrial countries, researchers say. These countries, struggling with malnutrition associated with hunger, now also deal with malnutrition associated with obesity.
As tariffs between the United States and Central American countries fell from 1985 to 2000, processed-cheese imports rose 3,215 percent, researchers Anne Marie Thow of the University of Sydney and Corinna Hawkes of Brazil's University of Sao Paulo said.
Processed cheese -- which includes emulsifiers, extra salt, food colorings and milk plasma or whey -- made up 37 percent of all cheese imports from the United States in those years, the researchers said.
French fries made up 23 percent of all imports of fruits and vegetables, they said.