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Mexico Takes Lead as Most Obese Country

Mexico Takes Lead as Most Obese Country

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Move over, America. Mexico has out-eaten you

Put down the burger, and back away from the french fries, America. You’ve been replaced by Mexico as the most obese country in the Americas, according to CBS News.

With a 32.8 percent adult obesity rate, Mexico barely passes the United States’ 31.8 percent rate — but it does, by a whole 1 percent.

It’s not just rice and tacos that are expanding stomachs and raising obesity rates in Mexico. Convenience, less manual labor, and large consumption are a few likely contributors to the spread of the disease.

The poorer and younger classes are particularly affected, according to Abelardo Avila, a physician with Mexico's National Nutrition Institute. "In the poor classes we have obese parents and malnourished children," he says. "The worst thing is the children are becoming programmed for obesity. It's a very serious epidemic."

As many as 70,000 Mexicans die from obesity every year, and 40,000 new cases of obesity are diagnosed each year.

To see how other countries compare to Mexico, explore this interactive map that ranks obesity worldwide.

Mexico Obesity Rate Surpasses The United States', Making It Fattest Country In The Americas

With a 32.8 percent adult obesity rate, Mexico just inches past the 31.8 percent obesity rate in the United States, according to a study released last month by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.

That makes Mexico the most obese country in the hemisphere and one of the fattest countries on the planet. According to the FAO’s data, which dates from 2008, several Pacific Island countries and territories have even higher obesity rates. Nauru (71.1 percent), the Cook Islands (64.1 percent) and the Marshall Islands (46.5 percent) all boast obesity rates well above those found in either Mexico or the United States.

The problems caused by obesity are causing a public health crisis in Mexico, with children growing fatter and adults increasingly dying from heart disease and diabetes.

For Mexico, there’s something of a silver lining to the terrible news that its people have surpassed Americans as the most obese in the hemisphere. That feat is made possible by the sedentary lifestyle afforded to an increasingly wealthy, urban population.

But on balance, it’s basically just bad news. Less manual labor and more convenience aren’t the only things that keep Mexico plodding along the path toward obesity -- it's also terrible eating habits, paradoxically fostered in part by low incomes.

"The same people who are malnourished are the ones who are becoming obese," physician Abelardo Avila with Mexico's National Nutrition Institute told CBS News. "In the poor classes we have obese parents and malnourished children. The worst thing is the children are becoming programmed for obesity. It's a very serious epidemic."

Barry Popkin, an obesity expert at the University of North Carolina, attributes much of the spike in Mexican obesity to increased consumption of cheap sugary drinks and mass-marketed snack foods (the type of things that got Americans fat as well), which have displaced home-cooked meals, along with fresh fruits and vegetables.

The speed at which Mexicans have made the change from a diet dominated by maize and beans to one that bursts at the seams with processed fats and sugars poses one of the greatest challenges to public health officials.

Correlation With Economics And Obesity

The most obese countries in the world are not necessarily the richest or the most developed ones. Countries with smaller economies, such as Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and Tonga have made it to the top 5.

As per the World Health Organization, food scarcity and its rising prices are also responsible for obesity in underdeveloped or developing nations, where the public finds it difficult to eat a balanced, healthy diet. For these people, the option is filling up on empty calories with junk or fried food.

How Diabetes Got To Be The No. 1 Killer In Mexico

A family sells pastries in Mexico City. As Mexicans' wages have risen, their average daily intake of calories has soared.

Mario Alberto Maciel Tinajero looks like a fairly healthy 68-year-old. He has a few extra pounds on his chest but he's relatively fit. Yet he's suffered for the last 20 years from what he calls a "terrible" condition: diabetes.

"I've never gotten used to this disease," he says. Maciel runs a stall in the Lagunilla market in downtown Mexico City. This market is famous for its custom-made quinceañera dresses and hand-tailored suits.

Diabetes has come to dominate Maciel's life. It claimed the life of his mother. He has to take pills and injections every day to keep it under control.

"I've never gotten used to this disease," says Mario Alberto Maciel Tinajero, at his dress shop in the Lagunilla market. "Imagine not being able to eat a carnitas taco!" Meghan Dhaliwal/for NPR hide caption

"I've never gotten used to this disease," says Mario Alberto Maciel Tinajero, at his dress shop in the Lagunilla market. "Imagine not being able to eat a carnitas taco!"

And because of the disease he's supposed to eat a diet heavy in vegetables that he views as inconvenient and bland. "Imagine not being able to eat a carnitas taco!" he says with indignation. His doctors have told him to stop eating the steaming hot street food that's for sale all around the market — tacos, tamales, quesadillas, fat sandwiches called tortas. His eyes light up when talks about the roast pork taquitos and simmering beef barbacoa that he's supposed to stay away from.

"A person who has to work 8 or 10 hours has to eat what's at hand, what's available," he says. "It's difficult to follow a diabetic diet. The truth is it's very difficult."

Diabetes is the leading cause of death in Mexico, according to the World Health Organization. The disease claims nearly 80,000 lives each year, and forecasters say the health problem is expected to get worse in the decades to come. By contrast, in the U.S. it's the sixth leading cause of death, with heart disease and cancer claiming 10 times more Americans each year than diabetes.

Rising rates of obesity combined with a genetic predisposition for Type 2 diabetes has caused a slow steady rise in the condition in Mexico over the last 40 years. Now roughly 14 percent of adults in this country of 120 million are living with what can be a devastating and even fatal health condition. Diabetes poses an increasing burden on the nation's hospitals and clinics. The surge in diabetes threatens the very stability of Mexico's public health care system, according to new reports.

For many people with diabetes in Mexico, like Maciel, managing the condition is a constant and significant challenge.

"I'd say I have it about 50 percent under control," he says, even though he was diagnosed two decades ago. "I take my medicine. I inject my insulin twice a day, in the morning and the night. I try to eat a proper diet as much as I can."

At times he says he can't afford his medications. And trying to cut down on the amount of sugar, salt and fat in his diet, as his doctors tell him he should, is easier said than done.

And Maciel's experience helps explain how Type 2 diabetes has become the leading cause of death in Mexico.

Type 2 diabetes is often considered a lifestyle disease because it's far more likely to develop in people who are overweight. Mexico has seen a rapid increase in obesity, with the number of people categorized as overweight and obese tripling over the last four decades.

The U.S. is the most obese nation in the world, just ahead of Mexico

A growing problem

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Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fattest country in the world? Ouch.

The obesity rate for American adults (aged 15 and over) came in at a whopping 38.2%, which puts the birthplace of the hamburger and the Cronut at the top of the heftiest-nations-in-the-world rankings, according to an updated survey from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Running at a not-too-close second is border pal Mexico, with 32.4% of population considered obese, followed by New Zealand, Hungary and Australia (the U.K. comes in at No. 6). The skinniest nations are Japan, with a tiny 3.7% of the population tipping the scales, followed by India, Korea, Indonesia and China. And across much of Europe, less than 20% of the population can be considered obese, according to the survey that was released Thursday.

Here’s a visual on those statistics:

In most countries, the OECD has found that women are more obese than men, though obesity rates for the male population are growing rapidly. Education is a determinant as the organization found that less schooling makes a woman two to three times more likely to be overweight than the more educated in about half of the eight countries for which the data was available:

And the OECD has found that obese people have poorer job prospects than their slimmer counterparts, earning about 10% less, and are then less productive at work, with fewer worked hours and more sick days.

Growing problem with obese children: As for children, the rate is about one in six in the OECD area.

The organization reported that 31% of American 15-year olds self-reported as overweight, though the most recent data is from 2013-14. Canadian, Greek, Icelandic and Slovenian teens made up the rest of that top five. At the low end, just 10% of Danish teens consider themselves overweight. The OECD said the number of 15-year olds who self-report as overweight has steadily risen since 2000 even as countries put policies in place to fight it.

Meanwhile, a broader sampling of 3 to 17-year olds shows that obesity trends have been rising for boys and girls in the U.K., and boys in the U.S.:

The future is fatter: Perhaps even more disturbing is the glimpse that the OECD offers into the coming years. As the below graph shows, obesity rates are expected to increase until at least 2030, led by the U.S., Mexico and England, where 47%, 39% and 35% of the population are expected to be obese by 2030.

As for solutions, the OECD suggest food labeling, and offered praise for health promotion campaigns across Facebook and Twitter, or dedicated mobile apps that have been shown to have the potential to help with weight loss and body fat. As one survey showed this week, obesity puts individuals at risk from related illnesses — diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and more. In other words, you can’t be fat and healthy at the same time.

And where humans go, sometimes animals follow. Wildlife officials in Thailand were forced to put a macaque money nicknamed “Uncle Fat” on a diet after he would regularly feast on sugary drinks and junk food left by tourists, the Associated Press reported Friday.

His weight, which should have averaged around 20 pounds, soared to 60 pounds, with sad photos circulating on the internet showing his giant tummy, which had become a benign mass.

“He had minions and other monkeys bringing food for him but he would also redistribute it to younger monkeys,” said Supakarn Kaewchot, a vet charged with helping the monkey slim down, told the AP. “He is now in a critical condition where there is a high-risk of heart disease and diabetes.”

High lead content in six popular candies

High levels of lead have been found in at least six of the 20 most popular candies among children in Mexico City, raising concerns about industry standards and government oversight.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States has established that the maximum content of lead in candies and other sweets should be 0.1 parts per million.

But popular candy brands produced in Mexico are over the limit. The highest levels were found in a chili lollipop known as Rockaleta Diablo, which contained 0.7 parts per million of lead. Others ranged between 0.13 and 0.37.

A study published last year in the magazine Environmental Research is the source of the lead content data, and the basis of a warning issued by the National Institute of Public Health.

The concerns go deeper, as it was also revealed that Mexico does not regulate lead levels in candy nor does it recommend a maximum allowed content.

The evidence should be used to “exert pressure on companies and get them to improve the quality of their candy and to get the government to set more strict rules and oversight in place,” said the authors of the study, “Lead in candy consumed and lead levels in the blood of children living in Mexico City.”

“No amount of lead should be found in any consumer products, especially those with which children might have contact.”

One of the candy makers denied yesterday that its products contained levels of lead that exceeded FDA limits. Tutsi Pop said lead levels were between nearly zero and 0.005 parts per million, and not the 0.13 as claimed in the study.

The study found that children aged between two and six consume on average at least three pieces of candy a day.

The researchers said that there is plenty of evidence linking lead concentrations in the blood, even at the lowest levels, with irreversible effects on neuropsychological functions and with intellectual deterioration.

Children run an even greater risk of being affected by lead, they continued, because their metabolism can absorb up to 50% of the ingested lead, while for adults it is only 10%.

Once ingested, lead is distributed in the body, reaching the brain, liver and kidneys and is deposited in bones and teeth.

Although lead’s effects on health are irreversible, a healthy diet could slow down its absorption and reduce the risk of kidney and motor diseases.

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Among the millions of Mexicans affected economically by the coronavirus are the country’s artisans. Dependent on tourism for their livelihood, they have been forced to look for alternative means of selling their creations. One option is online sales. With that in mind, Mexico News Daily is supporting efforts by the Feria Maestros del Arte, a non-profit organization in Chapala, Jalisco, to help artisans sell their products online by donating 10% of the revenues from annual subscriptions to the Feria.

Another element of the campaign is a series of stories called Artisan Spotlight that will highlight some of Mexico's talented artisans.

We ask for your support for the Artisans Online project by purchasing or renewing a one-year subscription for US $29.99, of which $3 will help artisans reap the benefits of e-commerce. Please click here for more information about Artisans Online.

Tony Richards, Publisher


The fat epidemic is most prominent among the poor and the young - many of whom also suffer from malnourishment because of poor diet.

High profile case: Mexican Manuel Uribe has been losing weight since he made an appeal for help on national television but he has become symbolic of the country's severe weight problems

Experts say four fifths of overweight children will remain so their entire lives.

Abelardo Avila from Mexico's National Nutrition Institute said: 'The worst thing is the children are becoming programmed for obesity.'

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) announced two years ago that the national weight gain had reached emergency levels, but it has proved difficult for the authorities to tackle.

Dangerous habits: Childhood obesity has tripled in a decade in Mexico


  1. Mexico - 32.8 per cent
  2. United States - 31.8 per cent
  3. Syria - 31.6 per cent
  4. Venezuela, Libya - 30.8 per cent
  5. Trinidad & Tobago - 30.0 per cent
  6. Vanuatu - 29.8 per cent
  7. Iraq, Argentina - 29.4 per cent
  8. Turkey - 29.3 per cent
  9. Chile - 29.1 per cent
  10. Czech Republic - 28.7 per cent
  11. Lebanon - 28.2 per cent
  12. New Zealand, Slovenia - 27.0 per cent
  13. El Salvador - 26.9 per cent
  14. Malta - 26.6 per cent
  15. Panama, Antigua - 25.8 per cent
  16. Israel - 25.5 per cent
  17. Australia, Saint Vincent - 25.1 per cent
  18. Dominica - 25.0 per cent
  19. UK, Russia - 24.9 per cent
  20. Hungary - 24.8 per cent

Part of the difficulty is that the crisis has taken hold rapidly - In 1989, fewer than 10 percent of Mexican adults had any weight problems.

Studies show that Mexicans are eating more processed foods than ever before and fewer whole grains and vegetables.

This year was the first time Mexico has inched ahead into first place, with a 32.8 per cent obesity rate to America's 31.8 per cent.

However, this was only among the most populated countries of the world.

Both Mexico and the U.S. have nothing on the small countries such as American Samoa in the Pacific where the rate of overweight inhabitants has now reached 95 per cent.

Islanders living on the beautiful American Samoa archipelago are officially the fattest in the world, according to World Health Organisation figures.

Being overweight can result in a catalogue of chronic diseases and health complications, including hypertension and heart disease, diabetes and subsequent renal failure and liver disease.

It is also linked the asthma, cancer, depression, stroke and problems with digestion.

The number of people with obesity-related diabetes is expected to double to 300 million between 1998 and 2025.

Taste for fast food: McDonald's, the world's largest fast-food chain, has been tapping into the Hispanic consumer market with more South American flavours

Causes of Obesity in México

Some of the most important contributing factors to the rising numbers of obese people in Mexico are mentioned here.

  • The introduction of processed food into the Mexican food market in the 1980’s has become widespread now. The easy access to fatty and high-on-sugar content food items has led México to alarming levels of obesity in Mexico both in the children as well as adults. Sodas and cheap junk food are a part of the everyday consumption of Mexicans.
  • The occupational shift from the agricultural sector to the industrial and service sectors has made the lifestyle of the Mexicans sedentary. This lack of activity does not allow the calories to burn. Mexicans consume a calorie-rich staple diet of tacos, tostadas, and tamales which add on to the already immense bulk of their bodies.
  • The problem of obesity is not just a health problem but a cultural issue. The advertisements promoting soft drinks and fast foods have made it irresistible for the people to consume large quantities of such food items. Also, sodas are cheaper than water in Mexico and act as instant energy boosters because of the high content of sugar. This is very dangerous for health and a major factor in the rising levels of obesity among the Mexicans.
  • Another important point is the education and income disparity. Obesity is seen to increase more rapidly among the lesser educated men and women. There is a strong correlation between poverty and obesity in Mexico. Around 50% of the Mexican population is poor. These people cannot afford to substitute the cheap junk food with a healthy and expensive diet.


Corn is the basis of the Mexican diet, as it has been for thousands of years. It can be found in almost every meal, usually in the form of the tortilla (flatbread). Corn can also be boiled to produce pozole , a hearty corn stew. Popular fruits and vegetables are tomatoes, tomatillos (green tomatoes), squash, sweet potato, avocado, mango, pineapple, papaya, and nopales (from the prickly pear cactus). Though beef is consumed, chicken and pork are more common. The variety of chilies includes the widely known jalapeño, as well as the poblano , serrano , and chipotle . Chilies give Mexican cooking a distinctive flavor, which is often enhanced with herbs, such as cilantro and thyme, and spices, including cumin, cinnamon, and cloves. Cheese and eggs round out the diet. Seafood is most common in coastal dishes.

Though Mexican cuisine is a blend of indigenous (Indian) and Spanish influences, most Mexicans continue to eat more native foods, such as corn, beans, and peppers. Such foods are cheap and widely available. Bread and pastries are sold, but the tortilla, homemade or bought daily at the local tortiller໚ (tortilla stand), is the basis of the typical meal. Flour tortillas are also eaten, especially in northern Mexico, but the corn variety is most popular.

American soft drinks, such as Coca-Cola, have become popular in Mexico in recent decades, but fruit-flavored soda drinks are also widely consumed, as are fresh fruit juices, available from street vendors. Sangr໚ , an import from Spain, and beer ( cerveza ) are also popular beverages. Coffee is normally served spiced and sweet ( café de olla ).

Frijoles (Beans)

A pot of beans can be found simmering on the back burner in most Mexican kitchens. They may be eaten with any meal of the day, including breakfast.


  • 2 cups pinto beans
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and finely-chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed or minced
  • 3 Tablespoons chili powder
  • Salt


  1. Place beans in a large pot and cover them with cold water. Allow them to soak overnight.
  2. When ready to cook, drain, rinse, and cover the beans again in cold water.
  3. Place the pot on the stove over medium to high heat and bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes.
  4. Turn off heat, remove the pot, and carefully drain the beans by pouring them into a colander placed in the kitchen sink.
  5. Rinse beans with cold water. Return beans to the pot and once again cover them with cold water.
  6. Add the onion, garlic, and chili powder.
  7. Cook over medium heat until most of the water has been absorbed and the onion is soft. Add salt to taste.

Serve as a side dish with tacos, or as a main dish with warmed corn tortillas.

Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans)

Though refried beans can be bought in cans in the grocery store, homemade Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans) are much more flavorful.


  • 1 recipe Frijoles (above)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup white onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. In a large bowl, coarsely mash the Frijoles with a fork or wooden spoon.
  2. In a large frying pan or skillet, heat the oil for about 30 seconds over medium to high heat.
  3. Add onion and sauté for 5 minutes, until onion is golden but not browned.
  4. Add the mashed beans and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Salt to taste.
  5. Scoop the beans onto a warmed corn tortilla, and add a bit of shredded cheese (such as Monterrey Jack or mild cheddar).

Café de Olla (Spiced Coffee)

The olla is the earthenware mug in which this aromatic coffee is often served.


  • 4 cups water
  • ⅓ cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches long)
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 1 orange peel (about 3 inches long), white parts removed
  • ½ cup dark roasted coffee, coarsely ground
  • Milk (optional)


  1. Combine water, sugar, cinnamon stick, cloves, and orange peel in a saucepan place it on the stove over medium to high heat, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  2. Lower heat, cover the saucepan, and let mixture simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, stir in the coffee, and let sit for 8 minutes, covered.
  4. Use a sieve or a coffee filter to strain the coffee into 4 individual cups.
  5. Serve immediately, adding milk, if desired.

Spot Resolutions and Civil Disobedience: American opposition to the war

Congress overwhelmingly approved a declaration of war on May 13, but the United States entered the war divided. Democrats, especially those in the Southwest, strongly favoured the conflict. Most Whigs viewed Polk’s motives as conscienceless land grabbing. Indeed, from the outset, Whigs in both the Senate and the House challenged the veracity of Polk’s assertion that the initial conflict between U.S. and Mexican forces had taken place in U.S. territory. Further, legislators were at odds over whether Polk had the right to unilaterally declare that a state of war existed. Principally at issue was where the encounter had actually taken place and the willingness of Americans to acknowledge the Mexican contention that the Nueces River formed the border between the two countries. Active Whig opposition not only to the legitimacy of Polk’s claim but also to the war itself continued well into the conflict. In December 1846 Polk accused his Whig doubters of treason. In January 1847 the by-then Whig-controlled House voted 85 to 81 to censure Polk for having “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally” initiated war with Mexico.

Among the most-aggressive challenges to the legitimacy of Polk’s casus belli was that offered by future president Abraham Lincoln, then a first-term member of the House of Representatives from Illinois. In December 1847 Lincoln introduced eight “ Spot Resolutions,” which placed the analysis of Polk’s claim in a carefully delineated historical context that sought to

obtain a full knowledge of all the facts which go to establish whether the particular spot of soil on which the blood of our citizens was so shed was, or was not, our own soil at that time.

Ultimately, the House did not act on Lincoln’s resolutions, and Polk remained steadfast in his claim that the conflict was a just war.

Abolitionists saw the war as an attempt by the slave states to extend slavery and enhance their power with the creation of additional slave states out of the soon-to-be-acquired Mexican lands. One abolitionist who agreed with that interpretation was author Henry David Thoreau, who was incarcerated in July 1846 when he refused to pay six years’ worth of back poll taxes because he felt the U.S. government’s prosecution of the war with Mexico was immoral. Although he spent only a single night in jail (his aunt, against his wishes, paid the taxes, thus securing his release), Thoreau documented his opposition to the government’s actions in his famous book-length essay Civil Disobedience (1849), insisting that if an injustice of government is

of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.


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    the incomparable theme ...

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    I apologize for interfering, I would like to suggest a different solution.

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