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We’re Number Two!

July 19, 2013

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2013 State of Food and Agriculture Report concluded that the United States fell to second place in the percent adult obesity rate. The report provides an annual overview of global food production and consumption trends. For the first time since it began collecting data, the United States lost its first-ranked placing in prevalence of obesity among adults. That privilege now falls to Mexico, which claims a 32.8 percent adult obesity rate (to go along with a 15.5 percent stunting rate among children). The United States, now in second place, had a 31.8 percent obesity rate and a 3.9 percent stunting rate.

Several small island states and territories (e.g., Nauru, the Cook Islands, the Marshall Islands, and American Samoa) have rates well in excess of those of Mexico and the United States, with some reaching over half of all adults.

The report urges a comprehensive approach to thinking about malnutrition—including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight and obesity—and observes that all “impose unacceptably high economic and social costs on countries at all income levels.”

Globally, an estimated 12.5 percent of the world’s population (some 868 million people) is undernourished, 26 percent of the world’s children suffer from stunting, and 2 billion people suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies. At the same time, an estimated 1.4 billion people are overweight and 500 million are obese. “Most countries,” the report observes, “are burdened by multiple types of malnutrition, which may coexist within the same country, household or individual.”

Over the past twenty years, the Mexican diet has gradually incorporated more American influences, including a sharp increase in the levels of consumption of sugary drinks and junk food. Mexico leads the world in the consumption of sugary drinks, with a per capital consumption level of 163 liters (43 gallons) per year, a level 40 percent greater than that of the United States. As Nina Lakhani at al Jazeera observed, “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.”

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