Mexico Obesity Rate Higher Than U.S., Says U.N. Report

07/09/2013 04:32pm ET | Updated July 9, 2013
Public health experts blame changes in lifestyle that have made Mexicans more obese than anywhere else on Earth except the United States. They attribute changes to powerful snack and soft drink industries, newly sedentary ways of living and a genetic heritage susceptible to diabetes, a chronic, life-threatening illness. (Heriberto Rodriguez/MCT via Getty Images)

The United States has long held the dubious title of the world's most obese populous country. Unlike other national superlatives, No. 1 in obesity is a distinction we spend a great deal of effort trying to shed. As in weight loss, our small incremental changes may be making a dent: Although rates of obesity haven't yet dropped, they have plateaued, according to CDC reports.

And now some more news: Mexico has surpassed the U.S. in terms of obese and overweight residents. The new data comes from a United Nations report, which found that 32.8 percent of Mexican citizens are overweight, compared to 31.8 percent of Americans. Meanwhile, 70 percent of Mexican adults are overweight, compared to U.S. adults, 69 percent of whom fall under a category that includes overweight and obese figures.

The reason for Mexico's ascendance? More processed and calorie-rich food, little nutrition literacy and a citizenry that struggles to make ends meet, reported the Daily Mail. The U.N. report's main author additionally blamed increased urbanization for the shift: With more sedentary, urban jobs and a higher concentration of commercially available snack food, it's hard for many to maintain a healthy weight.

Much like the U.S., obesity in Mexico disproportionately affects the poor and the young -- childhood obesity, for example, has tripled in the past 10 years and one in three Mexican teenagers could be classified as obese.

"The same people who are malnourished are the ones who are becoming obese," Dr. Abelardo Avila, a physician with Mexico's National Nutrition Institute, told CBS. "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."

All this obesity has led to a steady rise in diabetes, reported Fox News, with 400,000 new diabetes diagnoses each year and 70,000 yearly deaths caused by weight-related diabetes.

Officials say that this is not a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to Mexico's changing food culture. In fact, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (who conducted the official report) issued a warning to Mexico two years ago, reported CBS.

RANKED: Obesity Rates By Profession