Obesity and hunger, the two great evils of Latin America
Obesity and hunger are the two great evils suffered by Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a report published Monday by the OECD and FAO, which denounces the serious or better food situation of poor nutrition throughout the region as well as the increase in food insecure people.
It is a true "obesity epidemic," the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in the report along with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
"Obesity currently affects about a quarter of the population" in Latin America and the Caribbean, says the report, entitled "Agricultural Outlook 2019-2028".
That study underscores that if, in addition to the obese, those who are overweight are considered, 60% of Latin Americans are affected.
The text denounces the "triple burden of malnutrition," a mix of undernourishment, obesity and micronutrient deficiencies that creates "an increasingly serious public health problem.
The phenomenon "seems to be moving forward," warn FAO and OECD experts, "especially for the poor, women, indigenous people, people of African descent and, in some cases, children.
The rates of overweight and obesity, which have been well above global average levels for more than 40 years, are "comparable" to those of high-income countries.
Today, the region is "second only to North America in the world rankings," says the document.
At the same time, despite the fact that agricultural and food production in Latin America is "surplus", the number of people in a situation of food insecurity, i.e. suffering from hunger, "increased for the third consecutive year".
More than the availability of food, it is its cost to poor consumers that explains the degradation of the situation, according to experts.
The World Health Organization (WHO), another UN agency, recommends that the proportion of sugars and fats should not exceed 10% and 30%, respectively, of the total calories, consumed.
Many uncertainties for the next 10 years
"It seems that the eating habits of the region are not in line with what has been advocated," the text points out.
Experts also warn of the sharp rise in the consumption of animal proteins in a region where the diet used to be rich in cereals, roots, tubers, and legumes.
The report highlights some public policy initiatives such as limiting advertising for processed foods and beverages and detailed nutrition labeling on packages implemented by Chile, the food tax linked to health in Mexico and the law on child nutrition in Brazil.
The report, entitled "Agricultural Outlook 2019-2028," estimates that the growth in consumption of lentils, beans and other legumes in the world will increase in the next 10 years as well as meat.
Despite the increase in agricultural production and the maintenance of low prices over the next decade, "many uncertainties persist," say the experts.
Among the many uncertainties are also the evolution of food preferences for health and sustainability and "the policy responses to the alarming increase in obesity worldwide," acknowledge the two entities, which devote a chapter to the issue.
The report predicts rising levels of consumption of sugar and vegetable oils, reflecting the current trend towards prepared and more processed foods, especially in many low- and middle-income countries that are rapidly urbanizing.
At the same time, concern for health and well-being is likely to drive many higher-income countries to consume less red meat and switch from vegetable oils to butter.
The special chapter on Latin America and the Caribbean highlights that the region accounts for 14 percent of world agricultural production and 23 percent of world exports of agricultural and fishery products, which is expected to increase to 25 percent by 2028.
Despite this growth, the region faces persistent challenges because many households cannot afford the food they need or protect their natural resources.
"Ensuring a more sustainable and inclusive path for future agricultural growth will depend on progress in the areas of nutrition, social and environmental protection, and livelihood support," the experts advise.