Processed foods drive surge in obesity rates in Latin America and Caribbean – UN-backed report

Countries should promote the sustainable production of fresh, safe and nutritious foods to counter overweight and obesity, which have greatly increased, especially among women and children, in Latin America and the Caribbean. Photo: FAO

19 January 2017 – Obesity and overweight are on the rise throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and are prevalent particularly among women and children, according to a new United Nations-backed report.

Nearly 360 million people, or 58 per cent of the inhabitants of the region, are overweight with the highest rates observed in the Bahamas at 69 per cent, Mexico at 64 per cent and Chile at 63 per cent, according to a news release on the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean report, compiled by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

“The alarming rates of overweight 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,” said FAO Regional Representative Eve Crowley.

The report said that overweight affects more than half the population of all countries in the region, except for Haiti at 38.5 per cent, Paraguay at 48.5 per cent and Nicaragua at 49.4 per cent.

The report also noted obesity affects 140 million people, or 23 per cent of the region’s population, and that the highest rates are to be found in the Caribbean countries of Barbados at 36 per cent, and Trinidad and Tobago and Antigua and Barbuda at around 31 per cent each.

The increase in obesity has disproportionately impacted women: in more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the rate of female obesity is 10 percentage points higher than that of men.

PAHO’s Director Carissa F. Etienne explained that: “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.”

Linking agriculture, food, nutrition and health

The FAO/PAHO report points out that one of the main factors contributing to the rise of obesity and overweight has been the change in dietary patterns. Economic growth, increased urbanization, higher average incomes and the integration of the region into international markets have reduced the consumption of traditional preparations and increased consumption of ultra-processed products, a problem that has had greater impact on areas and countries that are net food importers.

To address this situation, FAO and PAHO call for the promotion of healthy and sustainable food systems that link agriculture, food, nutrition and health.


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