An Alarming Increase In Hunger And Obesity In Latin America

Significant progress has been made over the past few decades to combat starvation and malnutrition in Latin America, but UN agencies warn that conflict and climate change threaten to derail progress. Ideally the region aims to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 2 by eradicating hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

Recently there has been an increase in the amount of people suffering from hunger and obesity. In 2016, 42.5 million people in Latin America did not have enough food to reach their daily calorific needs, an increase of 6% from 2015. Though hunger levels remain relatively low compared to other regions globally, at this rate of increase eradicating hunger by 2030 appears very difficult and unlikely.

“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 paralyze the entire Latin American and Caribbean generation”, warned Julio Berdegué, regional representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Obesity is a relatively new problem for most Latin American governments, arguably recently worsened by the rise of fast food and new technologies. It is prevalent across all age groups and genders, though the rate increases with age and with women being the most affected. In South America 7.5% of children under the age of five have a Body Mass Index (BMI) that is classed as overweight or obese. This problem is almost on the same scale as the region’s child stunting due to chronic malnutrition, at a rate of 11% of children under five.

“The region faces a double burden of malnutrition,” said Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

The United Nations believes that conflict and climate change undermine food security and cause the worsening state of affairs. A report by five UN agencies outlined that “the increase is due largely to the proliferation of violence and climate-related shocks.” Conflict and climate change can harm agricultural production and vulnerable rural livelihoods, and make food difficult to access for those in poverty.

The report by the UN discovered that of the 815 million chronically undernourished people globally, 60% reside in countries affected by conflict. It stated that in recent years the amount of conflict has increased globally and the conflicts have become more complex in nature. There has also been an increase of the effects of global warming.

These increases will drive up rates of starvation and malnutrition. Cindy Holleman, a senior economist at the FAO said it is difficult to determine if the increase is temporary or the beginning of a long-term trend.

To tackle malnutrition, it is necessary to ensure access to a balanced and varied diet. It is important for governments to address the factors that currently prevent this for many people, such as the lack of access to healthy foods, to clean water and sanitation, education, health services and more social barriers.

Additionally, to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030 is it crucial to address the underlying factors of conflict and climate change. Governments of Latin America should strive to create peaceful and sustainable societies in order to achieve this. However, these issues have the potential to negatively impact everyone on a global scale, and will require global action to truly make a difference.