Loughborough University
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Loughborough University

The View Spring / Summer 2013

A migrating problem

  • Girl feeding turkeys

    Feeding the turkeys

    Children regularly take part in adult domestic activities.
    This girl is feeding the turkeys before going to school.

    Location: San José Oriente, Yucatan, Mexico

    Date: 2011, Photographer: Miguel Cetina

  • Women making tortillas

    Making tortillas

    Women and girls make tortillas on the ko ben.

    Location: San José Oriente, Yucatan, Mexico

    Date: 2011, Photographer: Miguel Cetina

  • Man outside Burger King

    Nutrition transition

    The switch from traditional diets (high-fibre, low-fat, and low-calorie foods) to globalized diets (low-fibre, high-fat, high-calorie foods) is happening in the Yucatan. Fast food chains are changing the dietary patterns of the populations and partially contributing to the increase in the obesity epidemic.

    Location: San José Oriente, Yucatan, Mexico

    Date: 2011, Photographer: Miguel Cetina

  • A grandmother, her granddaughter and the researcher Ines Varela-Silva

    Height as a measure of social inequalities

    Quoting Professor James Tanner:
    “Reflected in the patterns of growth of human populations are the material and moral conditions of a society.” The photo compares the stature of a Maya grandmother, her granddaughter and the researcher Ines Varela-Silva, who is 159 cm tall. The photo contextualises the very short stature of the Maya.

    Location: Colónia San José Tecoh, Merida, Yucatan

    Date: 2010, Photographer: Barry Bogin

  • Children sitting in a Coca Cola branded booth

    The “coca-colonization” of Yucatan

    Nutritionally poor beverages are replacing traditional ones. Even in the most rural areas of the peninsula advertisements invite people to try high-sugar, high-calorie drinks. These drinks are cheaper than bottled water.

    Location: Celestun, Yucatan, Mexico

    Date: 2007, Photographer: Ines Varela-Silva

  • Woman at her market stall

    “Vendedora”

    Maya women sit for hours at the Merida market selling fruits and vegetables so they contribute to the household income.

    Location: Merida, Yucatan, Mexico

    Date: 2009, Photographer: Maria Luisa Ávila-Escalante

Middle-income countries such as Mexico are experiencing a rise in obesity levels among their poorest segments of the population. However, research led by Loughborough University has revealed that this increase in obesity is not due to a lack of physical activity. Instead the problem lies in a complex combination of intergenerational poverty, oppression and early-life exposure to infection and undernutrition. Add to this the increased availability of junk food with low nutritional value but high caloric content, and it is clear to see why obesity is a growing problem.

During the past 10 years, researchers from the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences have been travelling to the Yucatan, Mexico, where Maya populations live. Most of these Maya are of a low socio-economic status and live in the poorest urban areas of Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan.

“The effects of migration among the Maya are also well documented. This massive amount of evidence can be used as a blueprint of what happens to any human group when poverty, warfare, globalization, displacement and loss of cultural and ethnical identity happen on a massive scale.”

Loughborough’s Dr Ines Varela-Silva, who is leading the research in this area, believes that conclusions made in relation to the Maya people could be applied to migrant populations throughout the world.

“While our research does focus on a very specific indigenous group in Mexico, the conclusion that we draw can be applied to many populations in developing nations,” Dr Varela-Silva explains. “The Maya are the largest living group of Native Americans, with 6-7 million members dispersed across what is now Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize. Their long history of glory and decline is widely documented and one can easily see the associations between living conditions and health outcomes and how these shape the destiny of a group.

“The effects of migration among the Maya are also well documented. This massive amount of evidence can be used as a blueprint of what happens to any human group when poverty, warfare, globalization, displacement and loss of cultural and ethnical identity happen on a massive scale.”