Neoliberalism, Obesity and COVID-19 in Mexico

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Victoria Macdonald, Queens University.


The World Health Organization has found that people with diabetes are among the most vulnerable to severe complications if they contract COVID-19 (Reuters). In a case-control study in Mexico, researchers found that obesity was the strongest predictor for COVID-19. This is because SARS-CoV-2 binds to the angiotensin-converting enzyme, this contributes to widespread inflammation and therefore, inhibits treatment for diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Studies have found that 75.2% of the Mexican population is either overweight or obese and globally, more than 80% of diabetes cases are tied to obesity (Hernández-Garduño).

            In March of 2020, Mexico identified its first official case of COVID-19. In the week that followed, protests broke out all over Mexico. There were more than 70 protests around the country as the population demanded personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, an increase in testing supplies, and improved hospital infrastructure to combat the pandemic (Agren). Eight months later, there have been a total of 789,780 confirmed cases in Mexico and 81,877 fatalities (Worldometer). Out of these fatalities, four out of six people have been overweight (Fernandez). Therefore, the high case-fatality ratio in Mexico is not a result of flimsy healthcare, rather, it is a result of a pre-existing epidemic that has left the country uniquely vulnerable. These pre-existing conditions are rooted in neoliberal policy, which has actively dismantled food systems to implement a new dietary regime. In 2020, this regime has resulted in chronic obesity across Mexico, leaving the population uniquely vulnerable to fatal health complications during the COVID-19 pandemic.

            Dr. Lopez Gatell, the Ministry of Health spokesperson, has publicly announced that Mexico has been dealing with a “national health emergency,” before the pandemic. Furthermore, Mexico City hospitals have been providing adequate treatment for COVID-19, but people continue to die due to underlying conditions tied to obesity (Flannery). Research has gone so far as to suggest that obesity is not only associated with the severity of COVID-19 but also predisposes people to contract COVID-19 (Hernández-Gardu).

            This “national health emergency” in question, regards the major problem between the Mexican population, and obesity. This issue reached near epidemic proportions in Mexico following the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in 1994. NAFTA lifted all subsidies on Mexican agriculture, and soon, 40% of beans, 25% of corn, and 30% of sugar consumed in Mexico became imported. This created a newfound dependency and changed the dietary patterns of the Mexican people. By 1998, only four years after NAFTA, the average daily fat intake in Mexico had increased by 7%, and an average of 30% of income was spent on junk food. In 2020, Mexico is still the largest consumer of processed food in Latin America (Bermudez).

            These neoliberal effects on the Mexican population compound with the current pandemic and create a far more susceptible victim to coronavirus. In addition to these compounding factors, Mexico’s borders have remained open for tourists during the pandemic. In essence, Mexican health has already been impacted prior to COVID-19, and now its systems are crumbling because the regional authority did not take strides to improve the health of everyone in the country. Furthermore, the Mexican government has avoided contact tracing as a method to track the virus, instead, it has utilized data from hospitals to gauge the impact the virus has had on the country (Reuters). So far, this has not addressed the underlying health concerns regarding obesity, diabetes, or hypertension.

            Coronavirus patients with comorbidities have been urged to take extreme measures to protect their health. Healthcare workers are becoming increasingly aware of the health impact that obesity has on those who contract coronavirus and public officials have urged the population to reflect on their eating habits in this time of crisis. Beyond this, there has not been any action made to protect the Mexican population from both ARS-CoV-2 and its endemic problems, and these detrimental health impacts will remain so long as inaction continues within the country.



            Agren, David. Understanding Mexican Health Worker COVID-19 Deaths. 19 Sept. 2020,

            Bermudez, Daniela Carina, ““Mexico, Public Policy and Obesity in a Global Context”” (2016). Master’s Theses. 211.

Fernandez, Belen. Neoliberal Obesity and Coronavirus in Mexico. 19 Sept. 2020,

            Flannery, Nathaniel Parish. “Why Are So Many Young People Dying Of Covid-19 In Mexico City?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 27 July 2020,

            Hernández-Garduño, Eduardo. “Obesity Is the Comorbidity More Strongly Associated for Covid-19 in Mexico. A Case-Control Study.” Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, vol. 14, no. 4, 2020, pp. 375–379., doi:

            “ Mexico.” Worldometer, 2020,