Fernando Castilleja, Director of Wellness and Prevention at TecSalud, tells us about the habits we should follow to stay healthy.
Not counting Covid-19, the most worrying health problems for Mexican society fall into the chronic degenerative category.
This is defined as those diseases that degrade the health of those who suffer from them since they usually progress slowly and damage several organs.
Chronic degenerative diseases are associated with unhealthy lifestyles.
In fact, within this category, the most alarming ones are cardiometabolic diseases, which include obesity, being overweight, diabetes, high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, atherosclerosis, and cancers.
“Metabolic diseases are the most significant throughout the country and are the ones that produce the highest rate of complications, disabilities, and mortality,” says Fernando Castilleja, Director of Wellness and Prevention at TecSalud.
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The figures on those who are affected by these cardiometabolic diseases are shocking because 70% of Mexicans, i.e. 90 million, are overweight or obese. Their preponderance in children is increasing and very dangerous for their future lives.
While official data on people with diabetes point to 15% of the population, the figure could be higher.
“It’s actually above 20%. That is, one in four Mexicans can have an alteration in their blood glucose, and that’s only the people who have it measured,” says Castilleja.
On the other hand, 40% of the population has high blood pressure at some level, and this disease most often develops over the long term, triggering another series of heart, kidney, and eye conditions associated with hypertension that put people’s lives at risk, although these conditions don’t always cause discomfort.
The pandemic and sheltering in our homes have worsened the bad health habits we already had because people stopped doing enough physical activity and getting exercise. They also used food to compensate for the anxiety and stress caused by everything that was happening around them, thus worsening their health problems.
The second effect was the interruption to monitoring of those people who already had a chronic disease.
Thus, diabetics and hypertensive people stopped going to their medical check-ups or following their treatments due to the cost, fear, or saturation of hospitals, causing many to die, even after being vaccinated.
There isn’t much of a culture of prevention in Mexico because health care is thought of as something that happens at fixed moments in life.
However, Dr. Castilleja is working in the Ola de Salud (Health Wave) movement to promote the following idea: healthcare requires continuous actions.
“People don’t like to think they’re sick, even when they’re overweight, and less than 50% of those who have access to a prevention system seek it out. However, I think that there’s a great opportunity for prevention programs to become more successful as a result of Covid,” says Castilleja, who is also a Tec de Monterrey professor.
Developing these diseases requires a complex social, environmental, and cultural fabric, and certain genetic conditions.
We can see that those living in the north of the country tend to be more obese, in part because of the influence of the culture and lifestyle of the United States.
“However, in the central and southern zone, a certain disposition to develop type II diabetes predominates despite not having these rates of obesity and being overweight that people from the north have,” says the Director of Wellness and Prevention at TecSalud.
According to physician and anthropologist Luis Alberto Vargas Guadarrama, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and professor of nutrition in undergraduate and graduate studies, developing metabolic diseases is a very complex matter, even when people have the same genetic predisposition.
The Pima, for example, are a group of people with a predisposition to being genetically obese; however, the indigenous Pima community in Sonora consists of farmers who work hard for their food, while the Pima in the United States have dedicated themselves to building casinos, and their main profits come from operating them.
The Mexican Pima group hasn’t developed obesity with the same frequency and intensity as the Arizona Pima have.
“It’s a group with the same genetics, but the culture mitigates a lot. In this sense, access to food and the way of preparing and consuming it count more than genetic predisposition,” explains the researcher.
60 years ago, the crisis of poor diet began with the industrialization and commercialization of food because we not only began to eat products produced by the food industry, but we also ate more.
This triggered metabolic diseases and many health consequences associated with them.
“The number of people with these metabolic disease problems has increased, as has the mortality rate. Obesity, being overweight, and doing less physical activity are directly responsible for this. Understanding the situation is simple, but it’s extraordinarily difficult to combat it because we’re used to a certain way of eating,” says the anthropologist.
This isn’t the only change we’ve had within our food evolution, says Dr. Vargas Guadarrama. The diet of humanity has changed a lot throughout history, and we’re talking about 2.5 million years of it.
However, it was in 1950 that changes in diet began to have greater negative effects on health.
“What has really hurt us lately is that we’ve changed our diet because the products we consume are formulated by the food industry, so they usually contain a greater amount of fats than we ate naturally and have more carbohydrates. We’ve also lost variety in our diet.”
Fernando Castilleja points out that there are four pillars to taking care of our health: moving our bodies by taking long walks or playing (not necessarily going to a gym), having a healthy diet, avoiding excess salt, fat, and meat, and increasing the consumption of vegetables.
It’s also important to avoid the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, i.e. the things we know are not healthy. In addition, we need to take care of our emotional pillar.
“We need to recognize as a society that we have severe chronic degenerative diseases and that they’re social diseases because we tend to cultivate or normalize not exercising, smoking tobacco, and drinking high amounts of alcohol,” says Castilleja.
On the other hand, Vargas Guadarrama, a specialist in the evolution of human food, says that healthy environments are generated collectively, so it’s a bit difficult to change them, but as individuals we can achieve great changes.
How? “By eating ‘a little of everything.’ This means varying foods and eating until you’re satiated or even a little hungry and not completely full. The amount of meat we require as humans is small: a daily steak of 100 grams or its equivalent in other animal products gives us the protein we need to be healthy,” he says.
Of course, a proper vegetarian diet is also recommended, he adds. He says we should also avoid industrialized products and increase our consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
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