Mexico City has an interesting and interactive way of getting its citizens to pay a little bit more attention to their health.
Mexico has some of the highest obesity rates in the world.
So high in fact that it has zoomed past the U.S. in terms of obesity of the general population in the last couple of years. In Mexico, a staggering 70 percent of adults and 30 percent of children are obese. This totals to an estimated 37 million people who are classified as overweight. These numbers are alarming the government because at the current rate of obesity, only 12 percent of men and 9 percent of women will be of normal weight by 2050.
To curtail the numbers and hopefully jumpstart fitness habits in its citizens, Mexico City has incentivized exercise.
The Mexican capital has installed 30 health stations in subways and bus hubs in 21 stations across the city. An electric meter on the health stations counts how many squats you can do. For every 10 squats a free bus or train pass and a free condom are dispensed. It is presently unclear why condoms are included – but hey, promoting safe sex is always a great idea. While every ticket ordinarily costs 5 pesos, citizens can now get it for free by doing 10 squats. The electric health station also flashes free fitness advice on its screen and 12 of these stations even include clinics that treat the obese, offering free medical advice and treatment.
The idea isn’t new.
One Russian station tried the same idea before the Sochi Olympics, except that the ride cost 30 squats versus Mexico City’s 10. Admittedly, 10 squats are a pretty low baseline of fitness but the city’s goal isn’t to get citizens to have a full workout before getting on their commute to work. The goal is to hopefully create a cascade of choices and events that may lead citizens to take the stairs instead of the elevator or park a little further to get more walking in. Studies have shown that financial rewards are a great motivation for weight loss. Dubai, another country whose wealth has led to an increase in overweight individuals in the population, actually offered its citizens a gram of gold per 1kg lost in 2013.
Squats are a great option for programs like this. The workout move doesn’t require much space but the compound nature of the move targets major muscle groups and burns calories like nobody’s business.
The Mexican government spends upwards of $5.5 billion a year to treat individuals with weight-related issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Compared to that, a free 5 peso train ticket doesn’t seem so bad.
Aside from the health stations, the government is also giving away 70,000 free pedometers and they have opened 300 outdoor gyms. They estimate that the recent call to arms is helping 90,000 citizens to get moving every weekend. The Mexican government also passed a law imposing hefty taxes on junk food and sugary drinks back in 2013.
Obesity has become a worldwide epidemic and with all the risks associated with it (heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome etc.), it’s just as bad as smoking and it is right of us to be alarmed.
Hopefully, Mexico’s recent efforts at discouraging junk food and encouraging exercise will be able to reverse the downhill trend of its citizens’ health.