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Nutrition Overhaul: an important collaboration between physicians, the government, education, industry and the media.

By Alice Morin, HEC Paris

Panel with Dr. Roberto Calva, Vice President, National Academy of Pediatrics, Daniel Bandle, CEO, AXA México, Silvia Davila, Regional President Latin America, Danone Dairy, Anne Engérant, CEO Latinamerica, RB, Maria de la Luz Iracheta, Director of Outpatient Clinic, National Institute of Pediatrics

Changing behaviors is necessary to help future population thrive.  Dr. Roberto Calva, VP of the National Academy of Pediatrics in Mexico, moderated a lively discussion about the need for improved nutrition across all socioeconomic groups of Latin Americas.   The panelists included Anne Engerant, CEO of Latin America, RB, Silvia Davila, Regional President of Latin America, Danone Dairy as well as Daniel Bandle, CEO AXA Mexico and Dr. Maria de la Luz Iracheta, Director of Outpatient Clinic, National Institute of Pediatrics. 

Anne Engerant emphasized that even though her company produces formula, breast feeding is best for babies. There needs to be more support from the government, the public sector, fathers and employers to facilitate this very important health benefit to both the mother and child.  Benefits of breastfeeding persist a lifetime but even longer in society. bPer Anne Engerant, “Only thirty-one percent of Mexican mothers breast feed their babies up to six months even though advised by the World Health Organization (WHO).  In contrast, seventy-five percent of Peruvian mothers breastfeed until a year or longer. “  She discussed the importance of lactation specialists, nursing rooms, pumping stations, and the support of women who cannot or do not breastfeed.   We as a society need to be sensitive about shaming women who do bottle feed. 

Another important and very serious nutritional topic is children being introduced to sugar early in their diet. Children and adults’ tastes become accustumed to very sweet foods and thus high caloric diets which continue throughout life.  Per Dr. Iracheta, Mexico is the second most indulgent country in the world and at the same time, anorexia nervosa is a very large problem in Mexico.  Society places pressure on young girls to appear a certain way.  Many children in Mexico’s society are given sodas in their bottle at the age of 6 months.  Thirty percent of children are given cow’s milk too early when the administration of these drinks are clearly contraindicated by  the WHO.  She adamantly feels that people’s diets should mostly include colorful, fresh vegetables, lean protein and whole grains as a health policy with eating indulgent foods only occasionly in contrast to the daily norm.  

Silvia Davila brought up a very important concern of biodiversity in people’s diets by making sure people and especially children are eating foods that improve the microbiome of the gut.  Currently there are only a fraction of the beneficial gut flora introduced into our diet.  She notes that ninety percent of the Mexican population complains of stomach problems and many suffer from obesity.  Evidence shows that increasing fresh vegetables, fiber and fermented foods is quite beneficial. Silvia quoted a study of increased diet of fermented products has been also shown to help curb childhood obesity in children in Barcelona.  

Daniel Bandle summarized the topic well, “There is no debate on the diagnosis of the problem.  We need to execute a change.”  The energy clearly needs to be put into implementing nutritional education in schools, media, primary care, prenatal and pediatric care.  Ms. Silva’s call to action was also profound “It can be overwhelming to think what we can impact diet as individuals.  Each time you eat or drink something, think of the impact it has on your body and our environment.” 

 This article is part of a series on #WFAmericas. Watch the full session on YouTube.