Globesity Spotlight: Mexico


In July, it was announced that the fattest nation title is no longer held by the United States but has passed to Mexico. Of the adults, almost 70% are overweight and 32.8% qualify as obese. One out of three teenagers is obese, and the amount of childhood obesity has tripled in the last 10 years. Each year, 400,000 new cases of Type 2 diabetes are diagnosed, and diabetes has become the nation’s number one killer disease.

Experts blame the urbanization of the population, on the grounds that city living is less physically demanding and more likely to be sedentary. Also, Mexico is a great country for roadside food stands, in both cities and rural areas, so there are plenty of chances for kids to get snacks when they are out and about. Even with home-cooking, the culture leans heavily on fried foods.

Plus, Mexicans of all ages drink an enormous amount of sugar-sweetened beverages. The per-capita consumption of Coca-Cola is greater than in any other country. Indeed, former president Vincente Fox was an upper-echelon Coca-Cola executive. Another factor that comes in for blame is the ever-widening income gap between the richest and poorest citizens.

As in other places, healthful fresh foods are more available to the wealthy, while the indigent can only afford junk food. That is a theory, hotly contested by some.

America’s fault?

Apparently, many people are blaming the United States for Mexican obesity. Or at least one person is — a writer for The Economist going by the pen name of H.T., who sees the American penchant for fast food and supersizing as the biggest problem.

Also, historically, the stigma of obesity has not been a big factor in tolerant Mexico. The same tolerance makes it unlikely that the citizens would put up with “sin taxes” on soft drinks and junk food, especially since the tax burden would disproportionately affect the poor.

To emphasize this point, an online comment was added by reader Adriana Maese:

My nephew is a supervisor in an assembly factory in the north of Mexico, he says the people are [badly] paid, they can afford only one meal a day, they work very long hours, cola drinks gives them energy (or a boost), they buy cookies and soda because that is what they can afford. They can’t remember when was the last time they had meat for dinner.

Another comment, by reader Emy Makakalala, takes a more political stand:

Mexico has excellent products but is forced to export it (mainly) to the North and the population is left with chicken full of hormones, fruits coming from the USA and the least nutritious ingredients to prepare their meals… Maybe if the government focused more on taking care of its population health and less on maintaining good diplomatic relations with the Northern frontier, obesity would be paid more attention to.

CNN’s John D. Sutter looked into the situation with an eye to analyzing the “blame America” trend. The research director at Mexico’s National Public Health Institute, Dr. Juan Rivera, diplomatically suggested that the U.S. is not particularly to blame just because of being next door, because the globalization of everything causes influences for good or bad to spread everywhere. Sutter writes:

Rivera didn’t blame the United States, but he did blame ‘sugary beverages,’ which the United States produces and markets. Mexico’s soda-and-sugar-water consumption numbers are staggering. The average Mexican drinks 163 liters of sugary beverages per year, Rivera said, which tops the world. That’s almost nine cans of soda per week.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Mexico surpasses US as world’s most obese nation,” Fox News, 07/09/13
Source: “Eating themselves to death,”, 04/10/13
Source: “Blame the U.S. for Mexico obesity?,”, 07/17/13
Image by Dainis Matisons.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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