Study Site: Mexico City, Mexico
Institutions: Center for Research on Population Health, National Institute of Public Health, Cuernavaca, Mexico, Instituto Nacional de Salud Publica
Principal Investigators: Dr. Martin Lajous and Adriana Monge

Mexico at a Glance


Area: 1,964,375 sq km
Population: 120,286,655
Median age: total 27.3 years
Urban population: 78% of total population
Life expectancy: male 72.67 yr ; female: 78.32 yr
Diabetes prevalence: 9 million cases, 11.9% (national prevalence)
Per capita GDP: $ 15,600
Language: Spanish (official) and indigenous languages

When the Europeans arrived in Mexico in 1517, the Mexican native’s diet consisted mainly of corn, beans, peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and herbs. Chocolate, native to Mexico, was considered a drink fit for royalty. The Indians occasionally hunted, adding wild turkey, rabbit, deer, and quail to their vegetarian diet.

When the Spanish explorers landed in Mexico, they introduced livestock, including cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and chickens. On later journeys to this “New World,” the Spanish brought plants from Asia, such as sugarcane and wheat.

Corn is the basis of the Mexican diet, as it has been for thousands of years. It can be found in almost every meal, usually in the form of the tortilla (flatbread). Corn can also be boiled to produce pozole, a hearty corn stew. Popular fruits and vegetables are tomatoes, tomatillos (green tomatoes), squash, sweet potato, avocado, mango, pineapple, papaya, and nopales (from the prickly pear cactus). Though beef is consumed, chicken and pork are more common. The variety of chilies includes the widely known jalapeño, as well as the poblano, serrano, and chipotle. Chilies give Mexican cooking a distinctive flavor, which is often enhanced with herbs, such as cilantro and thyme, and spices, including cumin, cinnamon, and cloves. Cheese and eggs round out the diet. Seafood is most common in coastal dishes.

Though Mexican cuisine is a blend of indigenous (Indian) and Spanish influences, most Mexicans continue to eat more native foods, such as corn, beans, and peppers. Bread and pastries are sold, but the tortilla, homemade or bought daily at the local tortillería (tortilla stand), is the basis of the typical meal. Flour tortillas are also eaten, especially in northern Mexico, but the corn variety is most popular.


The World Factbook, 2013-2014. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2013.

IDF Diabetes Atlas, 6th Edition. Brussels, Belgium: International Diabetes Federation, 2014.