Squat for a Free Subway Ride

This is just one of many projects the Mexican government has undertaken to try to curb the country's ridiculously high obesity rates.  Roughly 70 percent of Mexican adults are considered overweight; nearly one-third percent are obese.  And it starts during childhood, with about 35 percent of Mexico's adolescents being overweight or obese.  To add another layer of complications, obesity and overweight disproportionately affect both the malnourished and the poor.

Not only is Mexico the most obese country (a somewhat newly crowned title only recently surpassing the United States), weight-related diabetes claims the most Mexican lives each year.

So as of January this year, the country's government is "experimenting with health stations in subway and bus stops that reward passengers for performing a mini-workout." 

"Using a motion sensor, the stations ask passengers to complete squats. When someone performs 10 consecutive squats, the machine issues a ticket, which can be exchanged for a free subway or Metrobus ticket within Mexico City, an anti-stress ball, pedometer, or pack of condoms. The last three reward options are handed out by government employees running the stations." 

Ten squats doesn't seem like all that much, but it's something.  And maybe even inspiring.  It certainly gets people thinking, perhaps to stop and consider their health for a minute longer than they would have otherwise.  That alone seems worth it.  The program plans to issue at a minimum 50,000 free tickets. 

Squatting is only a piece of the puzzle.  Back in 2013, Mexico’s congress passed a one-peso-per-liter tax on sugary beverages, raising prices by about 10 percent.  At the same time, they instituted an 8 percent sales tax on junk foods.  It makes sense given "how much soda Mexicans drink: an average of 163 liters, or 43 gallons per capita per year, to be exact. That’s 40 percent more than the United States, which comes in at second place with 31 gallons."

Recent research shows the soda tax is doing what it's supposed to - during the first year of the tax, sugar-sweetened beverage purchases dropped about six percent, and continued to decline throughout the year to about 12 percent by year's end.  But a soda tax is a regressive tax, hitting low-income individuals the hardest.  The data confirms this: "In the first year of the tax, it was the poorest people who cut back on soda the most, averaging a 9 percent decline and peaking at 17 percent in December."  Yet it's these individuals that suffer from the highest rates of chronic disease -  maybe this shift, then, isn't such a terrible idea, benefiting those who actually need it most over the long term.  Researchers did see bottled water purchases go up, but even more importantly, clean (free!) water should be widely available in every community. 

Taken together - squats and more expensive soda, among other initiatives - the Mexican government changing the food and physical activity environment.  They're nudging people to make healthier choices and hopefully over the long-term, making it easier for them to do so.