Hunger, or the number of people in a nation without access to proper nutrition, is present in every country of the world. In Latin America, great strides have been taken to improve hunger statistics, and since the 1990’s, millions of people have been elevated above the hunger line. As Latin America resolves one issue, however, another issue is developing as a result: obesity.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation from the United Kingdom indicates Latin America and the Caribbean have become the most overweight regions in the developing world, and 56 percent of Latin American adults are overweight or obese, according to a report by the Overseas Development Institute. Though the number of Latin Americans suffering from hunger has dropped from 68.5 million to 37 million, the decrease may be a large part of why obesity is becoming such an issue.
“Buying a family combo of fried chicken, chips and a soft drink can feed me and my three children at a price I can afford,” Colombia resident Paola Flores told Reuters.
Flores’s dinner option sheds some light on why winning the war against hunger has resulted in obesity: most inexpensive foods, while convenient, are high in fat, sodium and sugar, the primary dietary components attributed to weight gain. When it is a choice between eating low quality food or not eating at all, the choice is obvious for most people.
“In the past, the main problem we had in Latin America was under-nutrition. We tried to spend efforts on school feeding programs and supplements for families,” said Yenory Hernandez-Garbanzo from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “Now, we have to look at the bigger picture. We were feeding these families with a lot of energy but we weren’t teaching them how to be balanced in their diets.”
Unfortunately, educating the public isn’t the biggest hurdle. Without the ability to afford healthy food, those at or below the poverty level have few options but to purchase what they can and need for their families. What Latin American needs, according to some experts, is an outreach program teaching low-income families ways to access healthy food, like through the development of community gardens.
According to Let’s Move, a healthy food initiative in the United States, community gardens, local farmer’s markets, and access to public transportation are important keys to getting low-income families the healthy food items they need. Once the accessibility is there, these individuals can use their education on how to make healthy food choices.
These community efforts, combined with legislation such as Mexico’s soda tax, can keep hunger out of Latin America while simultaneously preventing an increase in obesity numbers.