Photo: ©FAO/Luis Gustavo Sánchez

A farmer working at a FAO project to strengthen the resilience of small-scale coffee producers in Guatemala.

10 October 2017, Santiago, Chile –The total number of persons that suffer from hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean has increased, reversing decades of progress, even as overweight and obesity emerged as a major problem in all countries in the region of the Americas, according to the Panorama of Food Security and Nutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean 2017, published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).


In 2016, approximately 42.5 million persons in the region did not have enough food for their daily caloric needs, a 6 percent increase – equal to 2.4 million additional undernourished persons.


“It will be very difficult for the region to reach Sustainable Development Goal 2 on eradicating hunger and malnutrition by 2030” if this trend does not change, said Julio Berdegué, FAO Regional Representative.


While hunger levels in Latin America and the Caribbean remain low in comparison to the rest of the world, there are signs that the situation is getting worse, especially in South America, where the prevalence of undernutrition – a proxy for hunger – grew from 5% in 2015 to 5.6% in 2016. In Mesoamerica, hunger affected 6.5% of the population in 2016. Although hunger has not increased in the Caribbean, its prevalence is higher at 17.7%, with a peak at 47% in Haiti.


“We are heading along a bad path. The region has taken a significant step backwards in a fight that it was winning. We cannot tolerate the current levels of hunger and obesity, as they will paralyse an entire generation,” warned Berdegué.


Only a few decades ago, governments of the region joined forces to fight against acute malnutrition, chronic malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency. Today they must also fight against overweight and obesity.


“The region faces a double burden of malnutrition,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. “To fight against it, we must ensure access to a balanced diet and tackle the primary social factors that cause malnutrition, such as, the lack of access to healthy foods that are low in sugar, salt and fat, to water and sanitation, to education and health services and to social protection programmes, amongst others.”


FAO and PAHO call on countries to transform their food systems, paying special attention to the condition of the most vulnerable people, households and territories, and say it will take a great regional effort can the current trend be reversed and put Latin America and the Caribbean back on the path that made the region a global example of the fight against hunger and malnutrition.


Hunger rates declined in 21 of the 27 countries of the region, including the Caribbean and Mesoamerican as a whole, between 2013/2015 and 2014/2016. In Brazil, Cuba and Uruguay, the prevalence of undernourishment is less than 2.5%, while in Argentina, Barbados, Chile, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago it is below 5%. Still, the absolute number of people suffering from hunger increased. 


Overweight and obesity continue to affect everyone


Overweight and obesity affect all age groups in men and women, and is a public health problem in all countries of the Americas, the report notes. 


Some 7.5% of those under the age of 5 in South America, or 2.5 million children, suffer from overweight and obesity, as do 6% of the children in Central America and 6.9% of those in the Caribbean. The rate increases with age, affecting a third of the adolescents and two thirds of the adults in the region, with women being the most affected.

The problem is growing in scale to catch up with the region’s 11% rate of child stunting due to chronic malnutrition. Acute malnutrition has been practically eliminated from children in the region. 


“Nowadays, it is easy to find homes with one malnourished child and an overweight mother, or a chronically malnourished and overweight child or one with a vitamin and mineral deficiency,” Etienne stated. She pointed to dietary trends as a cause, saying that “the consumption of over processed products is directly related to the increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity, as well as non-communicable diseases. It is in this area that we must intensify our efforts at the country level to help people to have access to healthy food”.


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