Obesity is on the rise in the Caribbean

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.

Severe obesityThe 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” on Wednesday said that close to 360 million people – about 58 per cent of the inhabitants of the 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 per cent), Paraguay (48.5 per cent) and Nicaragua (49.4 per cent), 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 per cent), and Trinidad and Tobago and Antigua and Barbuda at around 31 per cent.

PAHO said the increase in obesity has disproportionately impacted women.

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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 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 labelling. 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.”

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