THIN TIZZY: United Nations Report Finds That People In The Caribbean Are Getting Fatter
SANTIAGO, Chile – A new joint report by two United Nations agencies says overweight and obesity is on the rise throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, affecting every country, except Haiti.
The report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says overweight and obesity are particularly prevalent among women and children in the region.
The “Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean” said this week that close to 360 million people – about 58 per cent of the inhabitants of our region – are overweight, with the highest rates observed in the Bahamas (69 per cent), Mexico (64 per cent) and Chile (63 per cent).
With the exception of Haiti (38.5 percent), Paraguay (48.5 percent) and Nicaragua (49.4 percent), the report said obesity affects more than half the population of all countries in the region.
The report also noted obesity affects 140 million people – 23 per cent of the region’s population – and highest rates are to be found in the Caribbean countries of Barbados (36 percent), and Trinidad and Tobago and Antigua and Barbuda at around 31 per cent.
PAHO said the increase in obesity has disproportionately impacted women.
It said that, 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.
“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 by linking food security, sustainability, agriculture, nutrition and health,” said According to FAO’s Regional Representative Eve Crowley.
PAHO’s Director Dr. Carissa F. Etienne said that the region also 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 programs, among others,” she said.
The FAO/PAHO Panorama report pointed out that one of the main factors contributing to the rise of obesity and overweight has been the change in dietary patterns.
It said 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.
“To this end, countries should promote the sustainable production of fresh, safe and nutritious foods, ensuring their supply, diversity and access, especially for the most vulnerable sectors,” the statement said. “This should be complemented with nutrition education and consumer warnings about the nutritional composition of foods high in sugar, fat and salt.”
According to the report, the region has managed to reduce hunger considerably, adding that, today, only 5.5 per cent of the population lives undernourished, with the Caribbean being the sub-region with the highest prevalence (almost 20 per cent), “largely due to the fact that Haiti has the highest rate of undernourished on the planet – 53 per cent.”
The report said the situation concerning stunting in Latin America and the Caribbean has also improved: It fell from around 25 percent in 1990 to 11 per cent in 2015, a reduction of 7.8 million children.
Despite these advances, the report said about six million children are still stunted, while 700,000 – 1.3 per cent of children under 5 years – suffer wasting.
PAHO said virtually all countries have been successful in improving the nutrition of their children, but it should be noted that malnutrition affects the poorest and rural areas the most.
“That’s where governments need to focus their efforts,” Crowley said.
The report showed that, in Latin America and the Caribbean, about four million children – just over seven percent – of children under the age of five are overweight.
Since 1990, the report said the largest increases in overweight among children – in terms of numbers – were seen in Mesoamerica; and, in terms of prevalence, in the Caribbean, where the rate increased from around four percent to almost seven.
The report noted that several governments have introduced policies aimed at improving the nutrition of their citizens.
It pointed to Barbados, Dominica and Mexico – countries that have approved taxes for sugar-sweetened beverages; while Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Ecuador have healthy food laws that regulate food advertising and/or labeling.
Etienne emphasized that these measures should be complemented with policies to increase the supply and access to fresh food and safe water, among other things, focusing on the strengthening of family farming, as well as the development of short production and marketing circuits, public procurement programs, and food and nutrition education .
According to the report, the current trajectory of regional agricultural growth is unsustainable, owing, among other factors, to the serious consequences it is having on the region’s ecosystems and natural resources.
“The sustainability of our region’s food supply and its future diversity is under threat, unless we change the way we do things,” said Crowley, noting that 127 million tons of food are lost or wasted annually in Latin America and Caribbean.
According to FAO and PAHO, the use of land and other natural resources must be made more efficient and sustainable, the techniques of food production, storage and processing must be improved, and food losses and waste must be reduced “to ensure equitable access to food for all.”