According to a United Nations report, Mexico has surpassed the United States as the most obese nation in the world. Almost 70 percent of Mexican adults are overweight, as are one-third of Mexican teenagers. Overall, 32.8 percent of Mexican adults are considered obese, compared to 31.8 percent of adults in the United States.
One of the factors contributing to Mexico’s rising obesity could be the growing number of Mexicans moving to urban areas, where food prices are higher and sedentary lifestyles are more common.
“The result is that for many Mexicans, particularly in urban areas or in northern states, switching to healthier diets is becoming increasingly difficult,” UN expert Olivier de Shutter said in a report on Mexican agriculture and nutrition.
The problem especially affects Mexico’s poor and malnourished. Healthier foods like fruits, vegetables, soups, and fish are pricey, and therefore not the first choice for the working class.
“I am trying to keep my children away from it,” housemaid Noemi Munoz said. “But fruit is so expensive these days and forget about vegetables. We don’t have money for much of that.”
The problem also lies in Vitamin T—the Mexican-dubbed term for tacos, tamales, and tostadas, which are a major staple of the people’s diet. Though such foods were once saved for special occasions, many Mexicans now consume them daily. This habit, combined with a reduction in physical labor compared to past generations, helps Mexicans pack on the pounds easily. In fact, one in every six Mexican adults suffers from weight-related diabetes, which kills about 70,000 Mexicans per year.
President Enrique Peña Nieto launched the National Crusade Against Hunger to target rural populations that are rampant with cases of malnutrition and obesity. However, the program has been accused of being a tool to manipulate the vote for elections held this past Sunday in 13 Mexican states. Three years ago, Mexican officials made an agreement with unions to attempt to lower consumption of junk food. However, de Shutter claims the agreement was weakened by the agribusiness industry.
“Some important tools to influence consumer behavior, including the raising of taxes on soda drinks and on foods rich in trans-fats or in sugars, were not made part of the National Agreement,” De Shutter said.
Mexico’s problem exists in other developing countries where working-class families are moving to urban areas for jobs that are less physically taxing and consuming cheaper, carbohydrate-laden foods.