Incidence of hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean is growing again, and at a faster rate, according to a new UN report. The Panorama on Food and Nutrition Security 2018 shows that 39.3 million people are experiencing hunger in the region. Another aspect of the same problem is also frightening: 250 million people are obese. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of hungry people has increased by 200,000. Between 2016 and 2017, the increase was 400,000.
Hunger, malnutrition, lack of micronutrients, overweight and obesity have greater impact on people with lower income, women, indigenous people, Afro-descendants and rural families. In Latin America, 8.4% of women live in severe food insecurity, compared to 6.9% of men.
Since 2014, Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela have recorded increases in the number of undernourished people. The largest increase occurred in Venezuela: 600,000 more people only between 2014-2016 and 2015-2017.
Venezuela became one of the countries with the largest number of undernourished people in the region (3.7 million, 11.7 percent of the population), along with Haiti (5 million, 45.7 percent of the population) and Mexico (4.8 million, 3.8 percent of the population). Brazil, Cuba and Uruguay are the three countries of the region with percentages of hunger below 2.5 percent of its population.
To respond to growing malnutrition, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the World Food Program (WFP), call on countries to implement public policies that combat inequality and promote healthy and sustainable food systems.
Childhood inequality and malnutrition
According to Panorama, social and economic inequalities are reflected in child stunting. In Honduras, child stunting affects 42 percent of children in low-income families and only 8 percent of children in higher-income families. In Guatemala, the difference is greater: stunting affects 66 percent of the poorest children and 17 percent of the children of higher income families.
Child stunting rates are also higher in the indigenous population. In Ecuador, 42 percent of indigenous children live with chronic malnutrition, compared with 25 percent of the national average (data from 2012). In Guatemala, stunting affected 61 percent of indigenous children in 2014-2015 and only 34 percent of non-indigenous children.
Children in rural areas also have worse indicators than those living in urban areas. In Belize, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Suriname, stunting rates in rural areas exceed by more than 50 percent the rates observed in urban areas.
Obesity has become the biggest nutritional threat in Latin America and the Caribbean. Almost one in four adults is obese. Overweight affects 7.3 percent (3.9 million) of children under 5 years of age, a figure that exceeds the world average of 5.6 percent, Panorama reports.
“Obesity is growing uncontrollably. Each year we are adding 3.6 million obese people to this region. 250 million people live with overweight, 60 percent of the regional population. The situation is appalling,” said FAO’s Regional Representative Julio Berdegué.
“Although undernourishment persists in the region, particularly in vulnerable populations, we must also consider obesity and overweight, which also affect these groups. A multisectoral approach is needed, one that ensures access to balanced and healthy foods while addressing other social factors that also impact on these forms of malnutrition, such as access to education, water and sanitation, and health services”, said Carissa F. Etienne, Director of PAHO/WHO.