MEXICO CITY - Fueled by the rising popularity of soft drinks and fast-food restaurants, Mexico has become the second fattest nation in the world. Mexican health officials say it could surpass the US as the most obese country within 10 years if trends continue.
More than 71 percent of Mexican women and 66 percent of Mexican men are overweight, according to the latest national surveys.
With diabetes now Mexico's leading cause of death, activists and leaders hope to renew efforts to crack down on junk food and other fatty-food consumption and encourage citizens to exercise more. But it will be a tough battle, as industry groups are expected to put up a fight.
No one knows better the country's affection for fattening foods than Lidia Garcia Garduno , who's run a fruit stand in central Mexico City for the past 10 years.
"People don't eat right anymore," said Garcia Garduno , mixing a drink of strawberries and pineapple. "Instead of coming here and purchasing a fruit drink, they prefer to walk across the street and buy fried pork chips. That's why so many Mexicans are obese."
In 1989, fewer than 10 percent of Mexican adults were overweight. No one in the country even talked about obesity back then, said Barry Popkin , a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill professor who studies global weight gain. Experts were too concerned with poverty and hunger.
"It certainly snuck up on them," said Popkin, who's working with the Mexican health ministry to develop strategies to address obesity throughout the country. " Mexico has probably had the most rapid increase of obesity in the last 15 years."
Mexican Health Secretary Jose Cordova , who launched a new health campaign Feb. 25 , agrees: "We have to put the brakes on this obesity problem."
Some Mexicans say there's less space on an already crowded Mexico City subway because riders are getting larger. At a flea market in the south of the city, vendors hawk clothes brought from the United States made for overweight individuals.
Francisco Princegali knew he was eating too much junk food when he bent down last week and heard a tear.
"I ripped my pants because of the fat," said Princegali, who's 20, crumbling up a wrapper of sweetened bread he'd purchased from a vendor. "I think I'm addicted to junk food."