More Indigenous people in Chiapas are dying from diabetes according to a study released this month in Mexico, and officials are noting this increase is connected to the consumption of more sugary foods and drinks and fewer traditional indigenous ones.
According to data released by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (NISG) in the last 20 years the incidence of diabetes in Indigenous Peoples of Chiapas has increased dramatically: in 2002 diabetes was the 13th highest killer of indigenous people and by 2012 it increased to the 5th highest cause of death; in 2000, 3 percent of indigenous Chiapans were diagnosed with diabetes and by 2012 that figure rose to 5.6 percent or 300,000 people.
Regional Comitan Hospital Director Francisco Paniagua asserted in recent interviews that the migration of indigenous to the United States and back has brought access to other types of flour and sugars and, at the same time, a decrease in the consumption of foods produced in the communities.
It was also noted that there was an increase in the consumption of more bottled drinks, taking the place of pozol, an ancient Mayan beverage made of corn and water. Along with the access, prices were a factor as well. The cost of Coca-Cola for example, is lower in the rural areas than in urban regions. One local official pointed out how Coca-Cola has found its way into indigenous cultural events.
Dolores Santiz Gomez of the Integral Family Development Agency of the State of Chiapas recounted that in the local town of San Juan Chamula, Tzotzil farmworkers take the soft drink into the fields with them instead of the traditional Pozol and that the drink has been incorporated into religious ceremonies and festivals.
“Coca Cola is now part of the culture and its consumption represents a reaffirmation of the beliefs of the Tzotziles,” Gomez stated, adding that it “would be very difficult” to substitute it or put it aside at this point.
For researcher Marcos Arana, who works for the Salvador Zubiran National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition, changing these patterns would require some policy initiatives. Arana was advocating through television ads for an increased tax on soft drinks to be used to install water fountains in schools. He asserted that the increase of these bottled drinks in indigenous communities in Chiapas was the result of “a very aggressive commercial campaign” which included other companies along with Coca-Cola and that constituted a “huge avalanche” of ads.
Arana recalled that during the influenza epidemic in Mexico in 2009, the National Institute of Nutrition conducted a census “to discover the availability of water in schools and we found that in 17,000 basic education institutions there was no potable water, a critical situation that encourages the consumption of soft drinks.”
“The problem of diabetes in the indigenous population of the state of Chiapas has tripled in the last 20 years; this is terrible,” Arana said.
He asserted that the indigenous communities need to propose the sites in which to install the water fountains but that the government should develop an “adequate education program” and to regulate the aggressive commercial campaigns of the soft drink companies.