Changes in Dietary Practices

Throughout the world, the diets of traditional cultures have experienced what has been called the "nutrition transition," particularly during the last few decades of the twentieth century. In Mexico and Central America, as elsewhere, this transition has been fueled by globalization and urbanization. Major dietary changes include an increased use of animal products and processed foods that include large amounts of sugar, refined flour, and hy-drogenated fats. At the same time, a decline in the intake of whole grains, fruit, and vegetables has been documented. While the increased variety has improved micronutrient status for many low-income groups, the inclusion of more animal fat and refined foods has contributed to a rapid increase in obesity and chronic disease throughout the region.

These changes are more evident among immigrants to the United States, where adoption of U.S. products has been shown to have both positive and negative impacts on nutritional status. Studies that compared diets of Mexican residents to newly arrived Mexican-American immigrants and to second-generation Mexican Americans have documented both nutritionally positive and negative changes with acculturation. On the positive side, acculturated Mexican Americans consume less lard and somewhat more fruit, vegetables, and milk than either newly arrived immigrants or Mexican residents. On the negative side, they also consume less tortilla, beans, soups, stews, gruels, and fruit-based drinks, with greater use of meat, sweetened ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, soft drinks, candy, cakes, ice cream, snack chips, and salad dressings.

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