Barriers to healthy eating contribute to the rise of overweight, obesity and chronic diseases in the global population. Acknowledging these factors allow to analyze the causes and propose adequate solutions. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Survey reported the barriers that the Mexican population faces which prevent them to eat healthy.
In Mexico, the most referred barrier is the lack of money to buy fruits and vegetables (50.4%). The lack of knowledge to prepare healthy meals and the lack of time to prepare or consume them are mentioned by the 38.4% and 34.4% respectively. A third of the respondents state as well a lack of healthy eating in the family (32.4%), preference for energy-dense and sugar-sweetened beverages (31.6%) and lack of motivation (28.3%). Disgust for vegetables’ flavor was indicated by 23%.
It is relevant to investigate how this issue arises and is addressed in other countries, in order to take into account more solutions that could be applied to our country. Recently, results from a study of the barriers to healthy eating on the Swiss population were published on the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
It could be assumed that the Swiss population, who has a higher quality of life, universal healthcare coverage and low-levels of poverty and unemployment, would not present any barriers to healthy eating. Nevertheless, it is mentioned that the food guidance has not improved over time.
The study explored the obstacles that prevented the Swiss population to follow healthy eating patterns, using previous research from the Swiss Health Surveys conducted through 15 years (1997 to 2012). Information from 52,238 participants aged 18 years and over was included. It was found that, between 1997 and 2012, the price and flavor of the food remained as the most prevalent barriers to eat healthy, in over 40% of the population throughout the 15 years.
Daily habits, lack of time to buy and prepare food, lack of willpower and limited options in restaurants and cafeterias were present in more than 20% of the respondents. Daily habits and lack of willpower barriers showed a decrease in all groups over the 15 years; moreover, prevalence of limited options in restaurants and cafeterias decreased 50% in the same period. These trends evolved similarly, without regard to sex, age, education or income.
It is important to notice that these barriers, although in different proportions, tend to be similar between the Mexican and the Swiss populations, such as price, lack of time to prepare healthy food and food flavor. However, the family environment is present in the Mexican population, whereas in the Swiss population the lack of healthy options in restaurants and cafeterias is included (possibly due to cultural differences).
According to the authors, studying the barriers to healthy eating is necessary to adapt the nutrition interventions accordingly. To counteract the price barrier, authors suggest that food policy should be advocated to reduce the difference between the high price of healthy and low price of unhealthy foods. Similarly, to counteract the flavor barrier they suggest that the industry must promote healthy ready-to-eat and easy to prepare foods which should also be flavorful. Finally, to counteract the time barrier they suggest flexible working times, daycare schedule extension, maternity and paternity benefits, as well as healthy behaviors at the workplace.
Authors indicate that interventions must not only address the general population, but also groups that are prone to face specific barriers to healthy eating.
National Institute of Public Health. 2016 Midway National Health and Nutrition Survey: Final Results Report. Available from: http://oment.salud.gob.mx/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/ensanut_mc_2016-310oct.pdf
Mestral C, Khalatbari-Soltani S, Stringhini S, Marques-Vidal P. Fifteen-year trends in the prevalence of barriers to healthy eating in a high-income country. Am J Clin Nutr. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.116.143719