Residents on the U.S.-Mexico border are battling obesity

Mexico and the U.S. share an appetite for fast food that has both countries coping with obesity especially on the border.

“You notice the children who are struggling with their weight and the parents are fat so it keeps repeating itself generation after generation,” said Jose Manuel Grijalva, a physical education teacher in Nogales, Mexico.

Mexico has caught up to the U.S., which regularly top the list of countries with high rates of obesity and large numbers of overweight adults and children.

Nearly 70 percent of Mexicans are overweight, and about a third are obese, according to the World Health Organization.

The proliferation of U.S. fast food chains in Mexico and that country’s own craving for junk food is reflected in the soaring childhood obesity rates.

“In the schools they sell them Sabritas potato chips,” said Samuel Guevara, a Nogales business owner. “They sell them Tostitos. They sell them all of that and a lot of soda.”

The Mexican government has for years done a public awareness campaign that promoted a balanced and healthy diet. But it has had limited results.

“There’s a lot of explanation about the issue on television and other media, but people still go to fast food places but not like the boom in the beginning,” said Javier Ugalde, a retired engineer.

Concern about growing waistlines prompted Mexico’s congress to pass a so-called junk food tax in 2013. The 8 percent tax applies to high calorie, sugary, packaged foods. And there’s a one peso tax per liter on soft drinks.

Both Mexico and U.S. officials are concerned soaring obesity rates will translate into serious health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding efforts to fight childhood obesity on the border in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The five year, $4.5 million USDA grants focus on a family-centered approach.

Many along the border agree that the solution begins at home.

“We grandmothers and mothers should make meals at home that are more nutritious, ” said Maria Velderrein, a Nogales homemaker and grandmother.

Home-cooking is usually healthier, but it’s a harder choice for those who eat on the go.

She cooks a “a complete breakfast with eggs, beans or oatmeal and for lunch, soup with chicken and vegetables,” Velderrein said.

“I think that’s very healthy.”