Fake News: NYT Blames U.S. for Overweight California Farmworkers

Fat Mexicans (STR / AFP / Getty)
STR / AFP / Getty
Newport Beach, CA

In one of its most inaccurate “fake news” Thanksgiving stories this year, the New York Times blamed America for migrant California farmworkers from Mexico having bad diets.

In an article titled “In a California Valley, Healthy Food Everywhere but on the Table,” Times reported that Mexican farm workers in the Salinas Valley do not have antioxidant healthy items like “tossed salads, broccoli casseroles or steaming bowls of roasted brussels sprouts” on their Thanksgiving dinner table.

The Times did report correctly that Salinas Valley has “more than doubled its output of produce in recent decades and now grows well over half of America’s leaf lettuce.” And it was right that the Mexican migrant workers who harvest “America’s Salad Bowl” prefer sugary drinks and have “cultural preferences for filling but high-calorie foods like tacos and tamales contribute to the obesity of farmworkers and their families.”

But the Times is blatantly wrong in blaming America for Mexican immigrants’ bad eating habits making them obese. The only nation on the planet, based on a “body mass index” (BMI = kg/m2), that has even worse eating habits than the United States is Mexico, according to a recent report from the United Nations.

Mexico has surpassed the U.S. in terms of both obesity and overweight residents. About 32.8 percent of Mexican citizens are obese, versus 31.8 percent of Americans, while 70 percent of Mexican adults are overweight, compared to 69 percent of Americans.

Rising obesity in Mexico has caused a steady rise in diabetes. With 400,000 new cases diagnosed each year and 70,000 yearly deaths, diabetes is also growing faster in Mexico.

The Times correctly stated that Monterrey County “public health officials estimate that half of agricultural workers in the Salinas Valley are in the country illegally, with most working for $10 to $15 an hour.” But it was wrong to declare that farmworkers are uniquely “overweight or obese, partly because unhealthy food is less costly.”

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy in 2011 found that ten of California’s 58 counties had obesity rates above 43 percent. Imperial County had the highest obesity rate at 47 percent, while Monterrey was only number four at 44.6 percent. The number one reason for these counties’ high obesity rates is that they have high Mexican immigrant populations that maintain native diets.

There is no way to determine the accuracy of a Berkeley Media Studies Group survey of 1,200 young people, which is quoted by the Times as stating, “72 percent of children under 10 years old and 83 percent of teenagers said they drank at least one soda a day.” But it does border on “Fake News” that the Times relied on a survey whose authors’ website states, “BMSG helps: community and public health groups practice media advocacy — the strategic use of mass media to advance policies that improve health.”

The official “Monterey County Community Health Assessment” does scientifically measure “Two or more sugary drinks consumed daily by gender for ages 2-17.” It reports that an average of only 25.8 percent of Monterrey County youth consumed two or more sugary drinks each day. Hispanic/Latino youth had a slightly higher rate of consumption, at 28.1 percent.