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Knowledge transfer to tackle childhood obesity in Mexico

Ian Janssen and Juan López Taylor

The nutrition and physical activity transitions linked to the economic rise of Mexico in the past decades have led to a rapid increase in the prevalence of obesity and related diseases. In fact, in a similar manner to what happened in Canada many decades ago, non-infectious diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases have replaced infectious diseases as the leading causes of illness and death in Mexico.

Mexico has undergone rapid economic development in the past half-century. The adoption of new technologies has increased exposure to cultures and lifestyles that are more akin to those seen in Canada. Traditional Mexican diets based on whole grains, local products and limited intake of meat have been replaced by nutrient-poor, highly-processed, calorie-dense foods. New employment opportunities within Mexico have led to changes from rural to urban lifestyles and from physically-demanding to sedentary jobs. Transportation accommodates more automobiles and less walking and cycling.

Mexico is only midway through its nutritional and physical activity transitions. Nonetheless, the prevalence of obesity in both children and adults in Mexico has already approached if not exceeded that seen in Canada. While considerable research support and expertise on obesity has been developed in Canada within the past two decades, this has not been the case in Mexico. Research knowledge has led to the implementation of several programs and policy changes in Canada to help remedy this situation; this has only occurred to a limited extent in Mexico.

Therefore, Canada and Mexico Battling Infant and Childhood Obesity (CAMBIO) was created three years ago as a multidisciplinary, international network of investigators participating in a program to enhance research capacity in childhood obesity in Mexico. CAMBIO, which also means “change” in Spanish, is a Canada-Mexico project that involves knowledge transfer among researchers, educational institutions, government ministries, non-governmental organizations and community-based groups. CAMBIO started as a collaboration between researchers from Queen’s University in Canada and the University of Guadalajara in Mexico and has since grown considerably to include partners such as the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion, the Mexican Ministry of Health, the Mexican National Institute of Public Health, the Mexican National Commission for Physical Culture and Sports, the Ministries of Health and Public Education in the state of Jalisco and the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History. It is funded through the Global Health Research Initiative implemented by five Canadian government agencies.

CAMBIO’s long-term goals are to increase research capacity and knowledge transfer, and to promote partnerships. To achieve its goals, CAMBIO conducts four primary activities. First, it trains groups of emerging researchers on obesity through intensive, hands-on courses. Second, CAMBIO provides individual training opportunities through scholarships, post-doctoral fellowships and faculty exchanges for Mexicans coming to Canada. Third, it has developed a collaborative research program that focuses on “learning by doing” through funded research projects. Lastly, CAMBIO builds partnerships and has developed a Mexican network of obesity researchers.

Building research capacity and invoking policy change in a country takes time. As the CAMBIO program is only three years old, it is only starting to scratch the surface in Mexico. Nonetheless, over 200 researchers within Mexico have already been impacted through CAMBIO’s training initiatives. Awareness of obesity and its associated health risks in Mexico has undoubtedly increased. Public health initiatives, clinical programs and policy changes are being implemented more and more swiftly.

It has been estimated that middle income countries such as Mexico bear 90 per cent of the global disease burden but receive only 10 per cent of all health research funding. It is therefore important to strengthen the research capacity in these countries through international collaborations, such as the CAMBIO program. In addition to generating new knowledge, global health research programs should also lead to action. In other words, research outcomes should guide program and policy development. Addressing the global health problems in middle and low income countries will yield benefits for all, and it is important for Canada to make a contribution to solving these problems.blue square

Ian Janssen and Juan López Taylor are co-leaders of the CAMBIO Program. Dr. Janssen is a professor at the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies and Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada. Dr. López Taylor is a professor at the Instituto de Ciencias Aplicadas a la Actividad Física y el Deporte, Universidad de Guadalajara, México. For more information on CAMBIO, please visit www.cambio-red.net or contact ibarguchi@cambio-red.net. For information on the Mexican network of researchers, see www.obesired.org.mx.

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