Prof targets obesity in Mexico

Queen’s project looks to reduce childhood obesity

A Queen’s-led project plans to tackle childhood obesity in Mexico.

The partnership between Queen’s and the University of Guadalajara began informally at a 2005 medical conference discussing physical activity and health.

In 2007, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) gave institutions the opportunity to apply for medical research funding.

Projects were required to be a partnership between a low- or middle-income country and a group of researchers from a high-income country. Together the researchers needed to address a local health issue in the low- or middle-income country.

Dr. Ian Janssen, associate professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences and department of community health and epidemiology, is the Canadian project leader. Juan Lopez Taylor is the project leader in Mexico.

Janssen said identifying childhood obesity as a problem in Mexico wasn’t difficult.

“It’s very easy to see when you walk around Mexico,” Janssen said. “If you walk down the streets in Mexico you can see it because … you can just see lots of very big kids.”

Every six years, Mexico conducts a national health study called ENSANUT, where 100,000 people are measured for certain health indicators, including heights and weights.

“You can see these massive changes in obesity in very recent years in Mexico,” he said. “Mexico is one of the most obese countries in the world. In fact, there’s more obesity in Mexico than in Canada.”

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development concluded that 69.5 per cent of the Mexican population aged 15 and older is overweight or obese — the highest statistic for a country in the world.

A research method called a Child Activity Report Card was first released in Canada in 2005. Now a similar template is being used in Mexico to gather information on childhood obesity.

It’s meant to compile information in a survey-style form by attaching a grade, from one to 10, to a variety of categories such as organized sport, active transportation, screen time and physical activity in schools.

“You try and gather all of the information that’s available that would reflect how you’re doing in that particular area,” Janssen said. “Then there’s a committee that goes through all that information and assigns it a grade.”

The intention behind the report card is to raise awareness about the issue of obesity in Mexico, act as a tool for accountability and demonstrate areas that need more attention.

“It gives you a sense for example, if you’re doing very well in sport but very bad in active transportation, then you might need to invest more resources and programs and policies in the area of active transportation.”

For the past eight years, the organization Active Healthy Kids Canada has been generating these report cards.

“It’s very easy for us to try and transfer a similar process and do the same thing in Mexico,” Janssen said. “Although the resources we had to do it in Mexico were far less than what we had to do it in Canada every year.”

Another large project aimed at reducing obesity in low- to middle-income countries is called Canada and Mexico Battling Childhood Obesity (CAMBIO).

This project received $1.5 million from an International Development Research Centre grant.

This money will be divided between 14 smaller programs at a variety of institutions across Canada, including Queen’s, which received $20,000 for its report card project in Mexico.

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