Last month’s report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) made headlines for revealing that Mexico is now fatter than the United States. The ensuing media articles and commentary grappled with questions like why are Mexicans getting fatter and what should be done about it. Some have taken to blaming NAFTA for Mexican obesity because increased trade with the United States has enabled Mexicans to consume more junk food.
The critics are absolutely right. Free trade makes you fat—and that is awesome!
People in Mexico are on average fatter than they were 20 years ago, and by all accounts they are consuming a lot more unhealthy foods. But the fact remains that people in Mexico are getting fatter because they want to be fatter. Economic growth and, particularly, free trade with the United States have empowered more Mexicans to choose the food they like to eat instead of merely the food they need to eat.
Paternalism comes in many forms, and worrying about people’s diets is one of the worst. We should be celebrating trade for enabling people to make the choices they want to make, not condemning it simply because happier, wealthier people have the luxury to eat unhealthy food.