MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican Deputy Hugo Lopez-Gatell said on Saturday that decades of poor eating habits in the country have created an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other related health complications that make its people more vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.

The Mexican health ministry has so far registered a total of 1,890 cases of the novel coronavirus and 79 deaths.

“These people, unfortunately, had chronic diseases or were older,” Lopez-Gatell said during a press conference, adding that the country had one of the world’s highest rates of diabetes and obesity.

“This is the product of many years, at least four decades, of poor nutrition, a diet that has been created by products of low nutritional quality and very high calories, in particular in processed foods,” Lopez-Gatell said.

The World Health Organization has said people with diabetes and its related health complications are among those most vulnerable to severe cases of the highly contagious and sometimes deadly illness caused by the new coronavirus.

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher and Adriana Barrera; Editing by David Gregorio)