MEXICO CITY -- Mexico has surpassed the United States in levels of adult obesity, a dubious distinction that experts attribute to Mexicans abandoning their traditional diet for processed snack foods and drinks.
Almost one-third of adult Mexicans, 32.8 percent, are obese compared to 31.8 percent of Americans, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO. Both trail such countries as Egypt, which clocks in at 34.6 percent, Kuwait at 42.8 percent, and the Micronesian island of Nauru at 71.1 percent.
Experts say the root of the problem in Mexico is changing dietary patterns.
"One factor is that Mexicans consume more soft drinks per person than any other country. That's a lot of sugar," said Katia Garcia, a nutritionist and researcher for the Power of the Consumer group.
Garcia said Mexicans are increasingly eating more refined flour, sugar and energy-dense foods. "People have been abandoning the traditional diet, tortillas, beans and chili, which are rich in fiber and vitamins. "
The FAO's "The State of Food and Agriculture" report was released in early June and defines people over 20 years of age with a body mass index of 30 or more as obese. Besides Egypt, Kuwait and Nauru, a number of island nations like Samoa and Tonga also top Mexico, having more than half their populations listed as obese. Bahamas and Barbados are in the mid-thirties range.
Still, Mexico's obesity has caused serious concern among activists, especially given the fact that Mexico is still battling malnutrition. Large numbers of children in Mexico's poor, rural villages remain underweight.
"Malnutrition is a paradoxical situation," said Carlos Labastida, of the general secretariat of Mexico's National Autonomous University. "In some regions of our country, we haven't overcome the problems of a lack of calories and malnutrition, while on the other hand we have to face a huge problem, which in my opinion is even bigger than malnutrition, which is obesity and being overweight."