Almost 60% of Latin America is either overweight or obese, according to a new report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Their joint report found that 360 million people – roughly 58% of Latin America – are considered ‘overweight’, with the Bahamas (69%), Mexico (64%) and Chile (63%) recording the highest prevalence of overweight people.
Around 140 million were considered to be ‘obese’, with the three worst offending countries – Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Antigua and Barbuda – all found in the Caribbean.
The report studied levels of obesity in Latin America, which covers the land mass and islands between Mexico and the southern tip of Chile.
Of all the countries included in the report, only Haiti, Paraguay and Nicaragua recorded levels of obesity below 50%. Haiti, which the CIA describes as ‘currently the poorest country in the western hemisphere’, had the lowest rate of obesity – 38.5%.
FAO regional representative Eve Crowley said: “The alarming rates of overweight [people] and obesity in Latin America and the Caribbean should act as a wake-up call to governments in the region to introduce policies that address all forms of hunger and malnutrition and to do this by linking food security, sustainability, agriculture, nutrition and health.”
The findings highlight the scale of the global obesity crisis and are in stark contrast to previous decades, when malnutrition was the biggest public health crisis facing the region.
It noted that the increase in obesity had disproportionately affected women, with more than 20 countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean recording a rate of female obesity 10% higher than the equivalent rate for men.
According to the report, Latin America has managed to reduce hunger considerably and today only 5.5% of the population lives undernourished – but this is highest in the Caribbean, where more than half of the population of Haiti, for instance, lives in poverty.
PAHO, itself characterising the levels of obesity as a ‘malnutrition’, claimed that the collective problem was a double-edged sword.
PAHO director Carissa F Etienne said: “The region faces a double burden of malnutrition. This needs to be tackled through balanced diets that include fresh, healthy, nutritious and sustainably produced food, as well as addressing the main social factors that determine malnutrition, such as lack of access to healthy food, water and sanitation, education and health services, and social protection programmes, among others.”
The report shows that in Latin America and the Caribbean, around 4 million children aged five or younger – just over 7% – are overweight. Since 1990, the largest increases in overweight children in terms of numbers were seen in Central America. In terms of the prevalence as a proportion of the population, the biggest growth was in the Caribbean, where the rate of overweight increased from around 4% to almost 7% of the population.
PAHO reiterated that political measures, like Mexico’s benchmark sugar tax, must be accompanied by policies to increase the supply and access to fresh food and safe water in order to be comprehensively successful.
If not, the FAO’s Eve Crowley continued, ‘the sustainability of our region’s food supply and its future diversity is under threat’.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019