, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 434–452 | Cite as

Mitochondrial mothers of a fat nation: Race, gender and epigenetics in obesity research on Mexican mestizos

  • Abril Saldaña-TejedaEmail author
Original Article


This paper explores scientific and medical discourses on genetics and epigenetics in the context of the increasing rates of obesity and diabetes among Mexican mestizos. It draws on semi-structured interviews with 9 Mexican geneticists that are currently involved in genomic population or genomic medical research linked to diabetes and/or obesity and with 10 medical staff working directly or indirectly with the child obesity clinic at Federico Gómez Children’s Hospital in Mexico City. It looks briefly at scientific discourses that link the very high rates of obesity among Mexican mestizos to an alleged genetic predisposition seen as part of their indigenous heritage. The paper argues that this reinforces the gendered and racialized meanings of mestizaje (mixture) and the hierarchies that this biocultural construct has historically entailed. The paper then looks in depth at the tensions in epigenetic research on obesity, analysing the narratives of the geneticists and doctors interviewed. It shows how mothers are defined as the main channel for the epigenetic modification of bodies and generations, thus intensifying women’s maternal responsibilities for the health of the nation.


genomics epigenomics mestizaje obesity motherhood 



This research is based on a two-year research project funded by the British Academy and the Newton Fellowship Award. I would like to thank Peter Wade for his invaluable comments and guidelines throughout the writing of this article. Thanks to Bridget Byrne for the help and advice offered for this and previous publications. I am grateful to the scientists, medical staff and mothers of children under treatment for obesity that shared their experiences with me and made this project possible. This manuscript is composed of original material and it is not under review elsewhere. The study on which the research is based has been subject to appropriate ethical review. The author does not have any competing interests – intellectual or financial – in the research detailed in the manuscript.


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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de FilosofíaUniversidad de GuanajuatoGuanajuatoMexico

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