We are no longer number one, in obesity rankings that is. Mexico is now the most obese populous nation, with about 33 percent of Mexican adults being overweight, compared to the United States at nearly 32 percent. Both figures are alarming as both nations are battling growing obesity rates every year. According to experts, in the last ten years childhood obesity rates have tripled in Mexico. The same experts warn that four out of every five of obese children will remain overweight into adulthood.
The cause of the growing obesity rates isn’t all that surprising. “As more Mexicans move from rural to urban communities they become more sedentary and they eat a steady diet of unhealthy, highly caloric foods,” said Martin Binks, an obesity researcher and spokesperson for the Obesity Society in an interview with ABC News. This shift to a more sedentary lifestyle is affecting much of the world’s population.
World Health Organization statistics show that more than 20 percent of the world’s population is overweight, with 65 percent of the global population living in countries where being overweight or obese kills more people than being underweight. Though Mexico ranks highest of the populous countries, there are several small Pacific Island countries with obesity rates well over those of Mexico and the U.S. combined. American Samoa is the heaviest country in the world with 75 percent of its population considered obese and 20 percent considered overweight.
Sedentary lifestyles are not the only factor in increased obesity rates. In Mexico, greater consumption of processed foods has, in many cases, replaced the traditional diet of whole grains and vegetables. The fact that this change has happened so quickly is another contributing factor to the country’s growing obesity problem. In April, an article from Al Jazeera said, “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.”
It’s not just food causing problems. Mexico also tops the list as the country that consumes the most soft drinks. The combination of a low-activity lifestyle, greater processed food consumption and drinking more sugary beverages caused Mexico to top this year’s “Most Obese” list.
While Mexico continues to become more wealthy and urban as a country, the trend will be for its citizens to rely more on convenience; this is especially true for those who are less affluent. They cannot afford, and may have little access to, healthier food options.
“As Western culture permeates the globe, we see increases in obesity rates,” Binks said at ABC. “Our metabolic profile is not really well suited to an environment where physical activity is limited and highly caloric foods are so readily available.” The health risks of such a society are already showing themselves in Mexico where one out of six adults has diabetes and 400,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.