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« Elsewhere | Main | American Foreign Aid »

July 06, 2005

Fat Mexico

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The Economist reports that obesity and diabetes are on the rise in Mexico -- and dramatically so, with figures for both problems almost doubling in the last 15 years.

Amazing fact (subscription and registration required):

In 1968 ... [diabetes] was in 35th place as a direct cause of mortality in Mexico, but now it occupies first place, above both cancer and heart disease. With about 6.5m diabetics out of a population of 100m, Mexico now has a higher rate than any other large country in the world.

Contributing factors: Urbanization, crap food, and lack of exercise. Pollution and crime are also thought to play roles, as they keep city people from making active use of streets and sidewalks.

One conclusion: Walking and rural-style manual labor keep people fit. And, of course, there's always the simple fact of how tempting it is to chow down. I once asked my yoga teacher what I might do, yoga-wise, to get my expanding belly under control. I was hoping for some arcane (but easy!) exercises and postures. She didn't comply. Instead, she said, "Have you ever considered eating less?"



posted by Michael at July 6, 2005


Many cases of diabetes may have gone undiagnosed in the past because people in parts of Mexico had little or no access to modern medical care. Today, improved access means more formal diagnoses.

Posted by: Peter on July 7, 2005 12:02 PM

I got a taste of that kind of testing-bias thing myself a few years back, if of a slightly different kind.

During preliminary tests for an operation, I had a number of scans done. Some of them revealed various patches and shadows. Were they signs that something was seriously amiss? Scary! I looked to the docs, but the docs told me they had no idea what was up. The reason was because they were using new superduper scanners and computers, and they were seeing things they'd never seen before. They genuinely had no idea, at this level of detail, what was normal and what was worrying. Perhaps everyone has patches and shadows when you look that closely -- but perhaps the patches and shadows they were finding in me were gonna kill me. They genuinely had no idea.

So it's always good to be reminded that the testing itself (and the circumstances of the testing) can (and I guess usually will) have an impact on the results that are finally reported. I wonder if there's any general rule about how much the testing itself affects the results that are kicked out. I suppose a general policy of being slightly-wary can't hurt ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 7, 2005 12:15 PM

If evolution is true, I wish it worked faster. We've moved off the farms decades ago. We don't get that much or that kind of exercise anymore. Would our bodies catch on, already?? Why do we keep wanting to eat so much, when we aren't naturally exercising so much?

Posted by: annette on July 7, 2005 12:30 PM

Beats me. But pass the mayo, and I'll think about it some.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 7, 2005 12:42 PM

I see your comments are working again!

"Interesting post about obesity in Mexico," I thought, as I finished off that burrito I bought from my favorite drive-thru Mexican place on Hollywood Blvd."

Your yoga teacher had a very wise response to your question.

Posted by: Neil on July 7, 2005 12:44 PM

The Wife, a former Californian and a foodie, tells me that Mexican food isn't really any good unless it's made with generous amounts of lard.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 7, 2005 12:58 PM

I think "beats me" is one of the world's great answers to questions. "Mr. President, why did five of your subordinates all state that you ordered the break-in?" "Beats me."

"Mr. Baseball Player, why did three straight drug tests come back positive?" "Beats me."

"Mr. Defendant, how did your fingerprints come to be all over the gun?" "Beats me."

Posted by: annette on July 7, 2005 2:07 PM

Michael, she's right, and that's why we keep lard in the house! (well, baking too :-)

Oils in our kitchen: lard, veg. shortening, soybean oil, wok oil, corn oil, olive oil (two kinds!), and I think that there's still some peanut oil in there somewhere.

Posted by: David Mercer on July 8, 2005 3:42 AM

Starchy, fatty diet, plus massive alcoholism are the primary causes. Mexicans walk plenty and crime is low for most people.

Posted by: Tyler Cowen on July 8, 2005 10:48 AM

Tyler -- As far as you've seen, are starch, fat, and alcohol-consumption rates up so much in the last 20 years that they can explain such a dramatic rise in obesity and diabetes? Or maybe it's largely a function of what Peter was calling attention to, the testing bias ...?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 8, 2005 10:57 AM

I'd chalk it up to testing bias and corn syrup. It get's turned into fat much more readily than most other sugars (it's a 5 carbon sugar, which we can't handle well).

If you plot the curves for percentage of diet from corn syrup for the US, the curve matches the percetage of obese persons suspiciously well (cite is lost in a bookmark file that may or may not exist, arghhhhh).

Anyway, I wouldn't doubt that much the same has happened to their diet, just lagging behind their more northerly neighbors, but now they are catching up economically, and can buy more of that corn syrup laden industrial food.

Posted by: David Mercer on July 8, 2005 10:50 PM

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