Factbox: Mexico's obesity epidemic

TEXCOCO, Mexico, June 16 (Reuters) - Mexican girls and boys, but especially girls, have seen their mean body mass index (BMI) rise at one of the steepest rates globally over the past 35 years, researchers at Imperial College London found after comparing data from 200 countries.

- Andrea Rodriguez, a researcher who studied the Mexico data, said in 1985 Mexican girls aged 19 had a mean BMI of 20.7 and ranked 155th among their peers. But by 2019, it had risen to 24.2 and ranked 19th.

- Boys of the same age group followed the same trend albeit much less dramatically. Rodriguez said their mean BMI of 22.4 ranked 41 worldwide in 1985, but rose to 24.2 and ranked 34th by 2019.

- Obesity is widespread among both Mexican children and adults, and worsening, 2018 government data showed.

- Meanwhile, diseases that scientists and government officials link to poor nutrition have sky-rocketed, straining Mexico's health system.

- There were 8.6 million Mexicans aged 20 or older with diabetes, or 10.3% of that population, 2018 government data showed, an increase of more than one percentage point from six years earlier.

- Even more had high blood pressure - some 15.2 million adults, or 18.4%, an increase of almost two percentage points over the same six years. While the government evaluation does not cite reasons, health officials have blamed it on poor eating habits. Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez Gatell has called soft drinks "liquid poison."

- In six years, the percentage of Mexicans aged 20 or older who were either obese or overweight increased by almost four percentage points to 75.2%; 39.1% were overweight and 36.1% obese.

- Among children up to the age of four, 8.2% were overweight. These rates increased steeply with age: 35.6% of Mexicans between ages five and 11, and 38.4% of those between 12 and 19 were identified as overweight.

- Obesity emerged as a major problem in Mexico after a trade deal with the United States and Canada in 1994 made cheap, unhealthy food easily available, substituting their traditional diet, researchers noted in a 2012 paper published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher and Carlos Jasso; editing by Diane Craft

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Stefanie covers energy, the environment and climate change across Mexico and Central America - with a particular focus on the troubled Mexican state oil company Pemex and its emissions. A German native, she also spent more than a decade writing about all things finance while based in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. Before that, she worked in microfinance in Ghana. She holds a Master's degree in economics and finance. Contact: +52 (1) 55 5414 6235