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Mexican food program reduces poverty – but increases obesity, says study

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 18-Feb-2010

Access to food baskets or cash has been shown to improve nutrient intake among poor Mexican communities but could contribute to obesity, says a new study.

The research, published in the latest issue of The Journal of Nutrition, examined the impact of a conditional transfer program, called the Programa de Apoyo Alimentario, which started in Southern Mexico in 2003. The program offers participants food baskets or cash on the condition that they also receive health and nutrition information – an approach to improving nutrition that the authors say has become increasingly popular.

In this case, the condition of nutritional education was implemented but not strictly enforced. The researchers designed a study in which program beneficiaries were split into groups of those receiving food baskets, and those receiving cash (about $14 a month), as well as a control group that received nothing.

The study’s authors found that the provision of either food baskets or cash increased energy consumption, including energy from fruits and vegetables, cereals and legumes, and animal foods, but increases in micronutrients were generally greater in households receiving food baskets than in those receiving cash.

However, they warned that increased energy consumption could be cause for concern, considering that 60 percent of the women involved in the program were already overweight or obese.

“Cash and in-kind transfers in populations that are not energy deficient should be carefully redesigned to ensure that pulling poor families out of poverty leads to improved micronutrient intake but not to increased energy consumption,” they wrote.

The researchers stressed that nutrition supplementation programs should not be implemented without consideration of implications for weight gain in poor communities, and suggested that information on health and nutrition should form a strong part of food assistance programs.

Source: Journal of Nutrition

140:612-617, 2010

“Cash and in-kind transfers in poor rural communities in Mexico increase household fruit, vegetable, and micronutrient consumption but also lead to excess energy consumption.”

Authors: Leroy JL, Gadsen P, Rodríguez-Ramírez, González de Cossío.

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