NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 28, 2005

Urban Latin Americans are experiencing a health crisis based on new eating habits that include fewer traditional foods and less physically active lifestyles, researchers said last Friday.

  • From Pasadena to Mexico City, obesity is epidemic, diabetes rates are skyrocketing, and heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death among U.S. Hispanics, according to a conference of U.S. and Mexican experts.
  • People in Latin nations are switching from calcium-rich corn tortillas to refined-flour tortillas, from whole grains to white flour and rice.
  • Their activity level has also plummeted, especially in the United States.

"We have always had problems of obesity, but now we are confronting a new problem," said Hector Bourges, director of nutrition at the National Institute of Medical Science and Nutrition in Mexico City.

"There have always been overweight people, but now it's an epidemic," Bourges said at the conference, sponsored by Oldways Preservation Trust. "It has grown very rapidly."

The barriers to eating traditional food range from practical issues to social prejudice. Traditional foods also tend to have low prestige, said Dr. Miriam Chavez, a senior investigator at the National Center for Nutrition in Mexico City. Processed foods are seen as modern and thus more desirable.

The changes are proving lethal.

  • More than 50 percent of Mexican women have body-mass indexes of 25 or more, an indicator of being overweight, Bourges said.
  • The Mexican obesity rate is the same as in the United States, he added.

A call to action is needed for Hispanics, who have surpassed African-Americans in the United States in rates of obesity and related problems, said K. Dun Gifford, Oldways' president and founder.

"To anybody who pays taxes in the States," Gifford said, "the consequences of the health problems of urbanized Latinos to the American taxpayers is just going to be punishing."

Source: Theresa Braine, "Latino diet changes deemed health crisis," Associated Press, Duluth News Tribune, April 25, 2005.


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