3 October 2022

Mexicans should consume less ultra-processed products – especially pregnant women


If you ask Adriana Granich, a Mexican epidemiologist and medical doctor, Mexico could learn a great deal from Denmark when it comes to living a healthier life. She studied how ultra-processed products negatively impact Mexican pregnant women. During a recent research stay at the University of Copenhagen’s Global Health Section, she got new inspiration for her work in Mexico.

Prenant woman
Foto: Camylla Battani (UNSPLASH)

Overweight and obesity among the Mexican population has reached alarming levels. About 73% of the Mexican population is overweight (OECD, 2020). It is well known that Mexico is one of the most worrying cases globally when you look at overweight and obesity. This leads to a series of negative health consequences for the Mexican population – also for pregnant women, which was the focus of the master’s thesis research of Adriana Granich.

Adriana Granich was enrolled at the master’s degree programme in Epidemiology at the National Institute of Public Health in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. In the research for her thesis, under the supervision of Dr. Héctor Lamadrid, Dra. Alejandra Cantoral, Dra. Alejandra Contreras-Manzano and Dr. Dirk L. Christensen. She found that increased consumption of ultra-processed products during pregnancy is associated with weight and inversely associated with haemoglobin levels.

Ultra-processed products could cause negative effect in pregnant women.

Ultra-processed products are high in energy (calorie) density, added sugar, high in sodium, saturated and trans-fatty acids, which is associated to negative health outcomes such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Malnutrition in pregnancy is associated with non-communicable disorders such as obesity and anaemia (lack of red blood cells). If you are a pregnant Mexican woman there is a reason to worry, but more research is needed according to Adriana Granich:

The coexistence of obesity and anaemia in the general population has been studied, but there is lack of evidence regarding coexistence of obesity and anaemia during pregnancy. Our study indicates that consumption of ultra-processed products is associated with high calorie content and micronutrient deficiency, which has an impact on gestational weight, and haemoglobin levels. However, larger cohorts are needed to validate our results.

Unhealthy diet is a modifiable risk factor. The results from Adriana Granich’s study will add to the evidence used for dietary recommendations specifically for pregnant women. In other words, identifying the diet components and how they affect pregnant women can be used to re-design food policy recommendations.

Adriana Granich’s study is part of a larger study on the coexistence of obesity and anaemia during pregnancy nested in the Mexican cohort MAS-Lactancia funded by Danida, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and administered by Danida Fellowship Centre. Adriana Granich got involved in the project right after the proposal was approved and it aligns well with her own ambitions:

“Since I started medical school, I was always interested in preventive medicine. Later, I developed an interest in disease risk factors and when I realized that unhealthy diet is a modifiable risk factor for many non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, I became interested in risk factors of diseases, and how to evaluate the quality of the diet as well as how to identify critical components of it. Having knowledge within this field, will allow us to design and collaborate on interventions to prevent negative health outcomes.”

Based on her research for her master’s thesis, Adriana Granich has written the article “Association between consumption of ultra-processed products, weight, and hemoglobin levels during pregnancy", which was recently submitted for publication.

Finding inspiration in Denmark

To Adriana Granich, Denmark has always been an inspiration when it comes to food guidelines and food regulation. In Denmark, regulations are used actively to prevent negative health outcomes. When Adriana had her recent research stay in Denmark, she was inspired by the Danish approach to food and health:

“The daily habits of the Danes are quite healthy. The infrastructure is made for biking and walking, and people feel safe in the public spaces. I saw that people of all ages do workouts, and I even saw pregnant women biking. I think that Mexico could learn much for this approach to a urban environmental health and maybe we could even adapt interventions in a Mexican context.”

Adriana Granich’s thesis supervisor is the project coordinator of the DANIDA-funded research project, Dr. Dirk Lund Christensen. He has specialized in cardio-metabolic diseases, and has been a great support for Adriana in her process:

“Having Dr. Christensen as an external supervisor helped me to see my work from another perspective. He was a great support for wrapping my head around my thesis results and conclusion. Staying, working, and collaborated in Denmark with an expert in the field, it has encouraged me to keep on learning and continuing with further projects.”

Read about the research project ‘Coexistence of obesity and anaemia during pregnancy’ here.


Adriana Granich: azgranich@gmail.com

Dirk Lund Christensen: dirklc@sund.ku.dk


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