Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Josef Korbel School of International Studies

First Advisor

George DeMartino


Mexico, Food studies, Obesity


The global surge in obesity and associated degenerative health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, have potentially crushing consequences for households, communities, health systems, and national economies. Mexico has one of the highest prevalence levels of overweight and obesity in the world, yet at a lower income per capita than its peers among highly overweight countries. It has recorded the fastest rate of change in obesity globally as well as a surge in diabetes mortality. As incidence of obesity increases nationally and becomes a widespread public health issue, it is becoming concentrated in the low-income population. In Mexico, low-income families are migrating from undernutriton not to good nutrition but rather to equally debilitating conditions of obesity and diet-related diseases.

Using a social-ecological approach, I argue that there are a number of broad, global forces driving rising rates of obesity worldwide. However, national and community-level environmental, economic, social, and cultural factors mitigate or reinforce global pressures and risks. This dissertation seeks to present a more nuanced understanding of the obesity-promoting dietary changes that have occurred in Mexico over the past two decades, with particular concern for how social class shapes local food environments, eating patterns, and vulnerability to obseogenic diets. In this study, I combine national-level economic analysis with ethnographic methods used by urban geographers and applied anthropologists to analyze national economic and food system trends as well as local food acquisition, preparation, and consumption environments and practices in three urban communities of distinct socioeconomic status. I use a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate the macrostructures and microprocesses underlying the dietary changes that are occurring, examining factors—risk regulators—that exacerbate or mitigate vulnerability to obseogenic eating patterns. This investigation contributes to a growing body of public health research that emphasizes direct observation of neighborhood attributes to understand the health-promoting or health-inhibiting aspects of people’s physical environments as well as the role of social class in these environments. This work refines Popkin’s general nutrition transition theory by incorporating perspectives from the public health social-ecological framework, health geography, economics and behavioral economics, and sociological theory as well as and phenomenological insights gained from ethnographic research in a middle-income country undergoing astonishingly rapid dietary change. The research and analysis presented in this dissertation yield theoretical, substantive, and methodological insights that should be useful in crafting public policies that can channel and shape nutrition transitions to better support human health.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. This work may only be accessed by members of the University of Denver community. The work is provided by permission of the author for individual research purposes only and may not be further copied or distributed. User is responsible for all copyright compliance

Rights Holder

Susan Bridle-Fitzpatrick


Received from author

File Format




File Size

437 pgs


Food studies, International studies