A drastic dip: COB prof examines the changing Mexican diet

Magali Valero

Magali Valero examined household surveys to determine a decline in calorie intake throughout Mexico in the past 30 years.

What did you have for dinner last night?

Chances are, the response among many Mexican residents has vastly changed over the past 30 years.

That’s because, since 1984, calorie intake has decreased in urban and rural households across Mexico. A drastic dip in calories could hurt the country’s health and wellness.

“Nutritional deprivation will affect not only health and productivity of this generation, but also of generations to come,” said Magali Valero, associate professor of finance at University of Michigan-Dearborn and native of Mexico. “Nutritional deficiencies lead to chronic illness, mortality and lower productivity at work.”

Valero and her father, Jorge Valero-Gil, sifted through data from household surveys administered in Mexico between 1984 and 2010. The results were evident: Calorie deficiency in urban areas increased from 46 percent in 1984 to 63 percent in 2010. And in rural areas, calorie deficiency increased from 36 percent to 63 percent over 26 years.

But why the drastic dip in calories? Physical activity is one factor.

“It makes sense because, over time, people are performing less physical activity,” she said. “Take farmers, for example. Many of them used to pick produce by hand, but nowadays they use tractors. We don’t walk as much anymore, either. If you don’t work as much, you don’t need as many calories.”

An uptick in food prices also impacts calorie intake, especially in developing communities with high poverty rates.

The data inspired Valero and her father to author “Nutritional Intake and Poverty in Mexico: 1984-2010,” which was published in the Journal of Development Studies. The paper earned the father-daughter duo multiple awards.

They hope to follow up on their success with a new research project that again focuses on calorie intake in Mexico. Valero spent the summer in Mexico sifting through data to determine how economic crises impact calorie intake.

As a teenager, Valero experienced it firsthand when an economic crisis gripped Mexico from 1994 to 1998.

Many of her neighbors cut back on miscellaneous expenses, like electronics and household items, but their calorie intake initially remained the same. As poverty continued to spread over time, however, many residents struggled to put food on the table and sought government intervention.

“You can try to postpone your purchases, but you can only do that for so long,” said Valero, whose research often focuses on international finance. “The human element is what attracted to me to this type of research.”

Valero’s research coincides with the College of Business’ (COB) mission of impacting society through unique research.

“Nutritional deprivation is a serious concern in many developing nations, and it’s important for researchers like Professor Valero to increase public awareness,” said COB Dean Raju Balakrishnan. “For many faculty within the college, their expertise in the classroom is matched only by their curiosity outside it. That curiosity often leads to unique research that helps set this university apart.”

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