McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The factors that contributed to three South Texas border cities being named the “Fattest Cities” in the nation are also exacerbating the COVID-19 crisis, the county’s health authority told Border Report.

“We’re number one for diabetes, hypertension, lack of access to health care, least level of education and awareness, and poverty,” said Dr. Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo County Health Authority. “It’s a five or six-horned problem and, yeah, we’re aware of it and we’re not surprised.”

A WalletHub study ranked McAllen, Edinburg and Mission as “Fattest Cities in the U.S.” for 2021. The three cities led the nation for making the worst health choices, a well having the poorest dietary and fitness opportunities. No. 2 was Memphis, Tennessee, following by Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

McAllen, Edinburg and Mission also were named the Fattest Cities in America for 2020, and Melendez says the health problems are not going away and need federal and state attention.

Dr. Ivan Melendez, left, is Hidalgo County Health Authority. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

“It’s no surprise. I think everybody already knows that. It’s old news,” Melendez said of the repeated rankings. “We keep saying that every time we have an opportunity to get resources to get a handle on this health issue.”

Instead, he said, state and federal resources are often directed to other regions that aren’t as unhealthy, and in his opinion, don’t need the assistance as much as the Rio Grande Valley on the Texas-Mexico border.

“The question is how do we convince or inform or educate those who make policy that this population is the greatest at risk?” Melendez said Tuesday.

On Tuesday, FEMA along with state and local authorities opened a regional testing facility in Edinburg, which will be operational until Feb. 4 and serve up to 1,000 people per day.

A regional coronavirus testing facility serving 1,000 people per day opened in Edinburg, Texas, on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, run by FEMA, the Texas Department of Emergency Services and local border municipalities. (Photo by the City of Edinburg)

Melendez said the “cultural and dietary customs that we have here on the border” also contribute to poor health. “This includes eating flour tortillas and high carbohydrate foods, like menudo, as well as genetics,” he said.

Right now as COVID-19 surges, those contributing factors are working in tandem to propel coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Hidalgo County, which is the seventh-largest county and one of the poorest in the State of Texas.

The Census Bureau reports that 30% of the population of Hidalgo County live in poverty; and 45% of children live in poverty.

On Tuesday, there were 400 people hospitalized for coronavirus in area hospitals, up from 60 people just three weeks ago, Melendez said. Hidalgo County also reported 275 new COVID-19 infections and two deaths on Tuesday.

(Graphic by Hidalgo County)

“We’re really obese and obesity and diabetes, these problems are tied. These problems are intertwined and driving up numbers,” he said. “Try to go to the grocery store and get a low-calorie, high-protein meal for a reasonable cost? You can’t and people can’t afford healthy food down here. They also don’t have access to good health care and they have low education levels.”

Other border cities named top 100 Fattest Cities in 2021 include:

  • The West Texas city of El Paso was 32nd.
  • The southern California cities of San Diego, Chua Vista and Carlsbad were 78th.
  • Tucson, Arizona was 83rd.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at