Obesity: Time for Action in Latin America


More than two billion adults in the world suffer from overweight or obesity. This is not just any figure: it is more than a quarter of the world's population. This is a health problem that leads to the death of 4 million people every year because it triggers multiple diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancers, depression, disabilities, among other complications.

Obesity is becoming a time bomb: since 1975, the prevalence rates of overweight and obesity have tripled and now exceed 2 billion people. The increase has been dramatic in all regions of the world and in people of all ages and if urgent action is not taken, the trend is likely to increase, according to the latest report published by the World Bank.

That obesity and overweight are exclusively a problem of the rich countries is a statement that remains in the past. Seven out of ten overweight or obese adults live in low- or middle-income countries. Nor is it a condition found only in large cities: 55 percent of the increase in prevalence has been in rural areas.

Several factors have combined to map this global health problem: genetic conditions, early nutrition, changes in eating habits (people eat more processed foods and foods with large amounts of sugar, among other reasons because healthy foods are more expensive); a life routine with less and less physical activity. In this sense, cultural patterns and technology are having a lot to do with it: more hours are spent in front of a screen than are spent exercising.

The costs of obesity are enormous for the development of countries. On the one hand, it can have an impact on life expectancy, help increase the number of people with disabilities, lead to earlier retirement and reduce productivity. And it also has economic implications: it is clear that the increase in health care costs linked to this problem is a trend throughout the world.

Latin America weighs more than it should

Latin America also has its alarms on. Since 2016, it is estimated that 6 out of 10 adults are obese and at least 4 out of 10 women and more than 3 out of 10 men over 20 years old are overweight.

Almost 40% of children are obese and more than 20% are above their ideal weight.

Along with regions such as North Africa, Southeast, and East Asia, Latin America is beginning to show a higher prevalence of overweight in children and adolescents. And the rate of increase is accelerating.

Today, in most countries in Latin America, as well as in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and East Asia (specifically China and Indonesia), more individuals are overweight or obese among the poorest populations.

Several countries in Latin America, such as Guatemala, are experiencing the double drama of malnutrition and obesity. Programs such as Crecer Sano were formulated precisely to be able to act in this regard.


In the coming decades, these trends are likely to increase significantly unless urgent action is taken to slow this progression, according to the report.

Fighting obesity is a responsibility not only for the sufferer. Governments, supported by citizens and the private sector, have a key role to play in addressing this challenge. They are responsible for providing a comprehensive approach to formulating fiscal, regulatory and food system change policies:

More investment in nutrition for early childhood.

Taxes to reduce unhealthy food production.

Subsidies for healthy food production

Mandatory food labeling.

Controls on the advertising and sale of unhealthy foods, with an emphasis on those targeted at children.

Research and subsidies for sustainable agriculture

Design and improvement of forms of mobility such as cycle paths, walking routes.

Some countries in the region are already taking action. In Mexico, where obesity-related diseases are the leading cause of death, a 10% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages has been implemented, which is expected to reduce the obesity rate by 2.5% by 2024 and prevent between 86 000 and 134 000 new cases of diabetes by 2030.

In addition, social networks are becoming an ally in campaigns to fight obesity. In Mexico, an initiative through Whatsapp mobilizes communities to promote better nutrition. It's one of the ways to help Flory and so many others not get lost along the way.

Source: El Pais


The obesity epidemic in Mexico is linked to global warming, said Rodolfo Acuña Soto, a researcher at the School of Medicine of the leading university.

The reason for this is that feeding a single person generates an enormous amount of energy, particularly in the context of a society of hyper-consumption of food, especially industrialized food, explained the university professor.

For a single bar of cookies to reach the consumer requires a lot of energy, which "is very expensive from an ecological point of view. For the operation of the harvester and the wheat mill, fossil fuels are burned, plus the heating of the oven where it is cooked, plus what is needed to transport the product.

"Meat production has a devastating effect on the environment," because for one kilogram of beef some 15,000 liters of water are used (the water required to grow the alfalfa plus the water the animal eats and drinks), to which are added the large quantities of methane released by the beef when it burps, added Acuña Soto.

According to the researcher, the determining factor for the outbreak of the current obesity epidemic in the country is that it ceased to be a nation where traditional home-cooked food was prepared and consumed, and became a place of consumption of industrialized, addictive and unregulated junk food.

"Our culinary culture that was created over thousands of years and allowed for a balanced diet that was lost over two generations," he said.

"With the accelerated, chaotic and gigantic growth of cities, which implies, among other things, massive mobilization in vehicles, long and tiring journeys to get from one point to another and the availability of less time, a fast and unbalanced diet had to be adopted," he concluded.

By Mexicanist