A new United Nations report says for the third consecutive year, the number of people chronically hungry has increased in Latin America and the Caribbean, while 250 million — 60 per cent of the regional population, are obese or overweight, representing the biggest threat to nutritional health.
Speaking at the launch of “The 2018 Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security” report in Santiago, Chile on Wednesday, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Regional Representative, Julio Berdegue, said it was an “appalling” threat to health overall, affecting women and indigenous groups the most.
“The Panorama,” published annually by FAO, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP), explores strategies to halt the health threats posed by hunger and malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to the report, hunger, malnutrition, lack of micronutrients and obesity largely affect lower income families, women, indigenous communities, Afro-descendants and rural families.
The report says that the principle causes of malnutrition among the most vulnerable can be traced back to changes the food systems have experienced in the region, from production to consumption.
With a greater strain on the demand for nutrient-rich food like milk and meats, the report says many resort to less costly options, which are often higher in fat, sugar and salt.
“Obesity is growing uncontrollably,” Berdegue said.
Maria Cristina Perceval, who serves at the regional director for UNICEF in the region, said stunting correlates closely to inequality and poverty levels, adding that being chronically overweight “is also increasingly affecting the poorest children.”
She underscored that lower income families have unequal access to healthy diets.
The report says that obesity has become the greatest threat to Latin America and the Caribbean when it comes to nutritional health conditions.
Nearly one in four adults are obese and more than seven percent of children below the age of five are overweight – higher than the global average of 5.6 per cent, the report states.
To address the exacerbation of hunger and obesity, a “multisectoral approach is needed,” said PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne, adding that the solution requires addressing social factors, just as well as water quality and access to health services.
In response to growing malnutrition, the UN said partner authors on the report have called on countries to implement public policies that combat inequality, while promoting health and sustainable food systems.