Adult obesity levels are now higher in Mexico than the United States in official UN rankings, as the country battles to cope with changing lifestyles and diets.
A recent report by the United National Food and Agricultural Organisation found that almost a third of Mexicans – 32.8 per cent – were categorised as obese, compared to 31.8 per cent of Americans.
More and more Mexicans are taking to guzzling fizzy drinks and downing junk food, turning their backs on the country’s traditional fare of tortillas, beans and chilli.
“The main cause of (the rise in obesity) is the deterioration of healthy habits. We are the country with the highest consumption of soft drinks in the world, 163 litres per person per year. Obviously, obesity is related to this but also to the abandonment of the traditional diet and the consumption of junk food,” said Alejandro Calvillo, director of the consumer rights organisation El Poder del Consumidor.
Weight-related diabetes is Mexico’s biggest killer, reportedly claiming six times as many lives as the country’s gang wars.
Obesity is now described as an epidemic, particularly hitting poorer communities, in tandem with malnutrition.
“We have arrived at a point of no return. We either resolve it or we lose the country, the health system will collapse. The health system cannot collapse without the country collapsing too. We can now say it is a national security problem,” said Dr Abelardo Avila of Mexico’s National Institute of Medical Science and Nutrition.
Mexicans wryly call the problem Vitamin T after all the tacos and tostadas that are gobbled up.
Sedentary lifestyles are blamed as more Mexicans leave behind the hard, physical jobs they once did. At the same time many find healthier food such as fruit and vegetables too expensive – while the waist-expanding alternatives remain all too tempting.