Mexico Tops US in Obesity

Obesity in Mexico escalating in children and adults
Obesity in Mexico escalating in children and adults

The United States has had a problem with obesity for years but it isn’t the only country to do so. The latest United Nations study shows that Mexico now has a higher percentage of obese adults than the United States. Nearly one-third (32.8%) of all adults in Mexico are considered obese. The US isn’t far behind with 31.8%.

In addition to adult obesity, statistics are also alarming for Mexico’s teens and young children. According to the Mexican Social Security Institute, 28% of children between five to nine years of age are either overweight or obese. The number is even higher for pre-teens and teenagers, topping out at 38%.  Former president Felipe Calderón launched a program in 2010 to combat obesity by educating children about better eating habits and exercise. At that time, obesity-related health problems cost an estimated $3.2 billion a year.

The traditional Mexican dietary staples of rice and beans provide protein and fiber, fruits and vegetables provide vitamins. But that is being replaced by foods with refined flour, sugar, and high fat content. Added to the mix are the fast food chains with deep fried, high calorie choices. Mexico has the highest consumption of soft drinks per person. The combination of high fat foods plus sugary soft drinks leads to weight gain and diabetes.

Mexico has had mixed results in trying to get better labels on snack food. According to nutritionist Katia Garcia, the labels are not consistent. Smaller packages are being sold in schools, but “kids can just buy more packages.”

Malnutrition can be divided into two areas. Over-nutrition is when too much of the wrong kinds of food are eaten, resulting in weight gain and obesity. Under-nutrition is when people don’t eat enough food, resulting in chronic hunger and starvation. Mexico has to deal with both counts.

Mexico has a high poverty rate from remote villages to sections of big cities. Lack of money and education translate to lack of jobs and food. Even though, according to  various international agencies, such as UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the under-nutrition rate has been declining over the last twenty years, it still exists. While under-nutrition is declining, obesity rates are rising.

The obesity problem is more than simply poor nutrition, it also has to do with lifestyle. People are much more sedentary now than they used to be. This is just as true for Mexico as it is for the United States. Both countries have several programs that are designed to educate people of all ages on nutrition and exercise. Mexico’s National Crusade Against Hunger deals with those who are under-nourished by aiming to eliminate “food insecurity.” At the same time, doctors and nutritionists are keeping up the pressure for better labels on packages and replacing unhealthy snacks in schools with healthy ones.

Still, the road to eliminating obesity is a long one despite the health warnings and costs. People continue to eat high calorie foods with low nutrition value. Fast food is already prepared, and high calorie items are often seen as comfort food.

Written by: Cynthia Collins

FAO – Mexico’s National Crusade Against Hunger

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