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February 11, 2009


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People of Mexican descent in the United States also have high obesity rates. While economic factors and dietary changes certainly are important, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that genetic factors are at play too.

It is clear that dietary changes (possibly driven by economics) are the only cause for the rapid rise in obesity. After all, the genetic makeup of Mexico's population hasn't changed.

I don't think that's the question you're asking, however. You're asking whether the population of Mexico is, for genetic reasons, more susceptible to obesity than the native-born white population of the U.S. It's certainly a reasonable hypothesis.

The test, however, isn't whether people of Mexican descent in the United States show higher obesity rates than native-born whites.

It's whether they higher obesity rates than native-born whites after adjusting for education and income.

I'm not sure that's true.

A theory in the recent book The 10,000-Year Explosion says that the descendants of groups that were late to adopt agriculture, or never adopted it prior to Western contact, are prone to higher rates of diabetes regardless of income or diet. Given that Mexicans are predominately of Amerindian descent, that might explain their high rates of diabetes, most Amerindians having adopted agriculture less than 2,000 years ago.

I don't know how widely accepted this theory has become.

Here's an article that supports the changes in diet factor. The first few paragraphs get at the heart of it. The last section also talks about a very timid self-regulation in Mexico that will fall short of initiating any major change, but could be the first step toward the big government that you talked about.


One other thing that I think could be a factor (albeit a minor one) among youth obesity is the popularity of video games among middle class teenagers. Lots of wiis and playstation 3s in wealthier Mexican homes. Although for that to hold water in explaining the rise in obesity there would have to be more gaming systems today than there were segas and nintendos ps2s in the mid-90s, which I'm not sure there are.

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