SANTIAGO, Chile–The total number of persons suffering from hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean has increased, reversing decades of progress in eradicating poverty. This is according to the Panorama of Food Security and Nutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean 2017, published by the United Nations’ (UN’s) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Pan American Health.

Additionally overweight affects all age groups in men and women, and constitutes a major health problem in all countries in the region of the Americas.

The publication also highlights that after many years of gradual progress, in 2016, approximately 42.5 million persons did not have enough food for their daily caloric needs. This is an increase of 2.4 million persons, 6 percent more of the undernourished population than the year before.

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

While hunger levels remain low in Latin America and the Caribbean in comparison to the rest of the world, there are signs that the situation is getting worse, especially in South America, where hunger grew from 5 per cent in 2015 to 5.6 per cent in 2016. In Meso-America, hunger affected 6.5 per cent of the population in 2016. Although hunger has not increased in the Caribbean, its prevalence is at 17.7 per cent, making it the sub-region with the greatest prevalence.

“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 the entire Latin American and Caribbean 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.
“While malnutrition persists in the region, especially amongst vulnerable populations, it is now accompanied by overweight and obesity, affecting women more than anyone and also children,” affirmed PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne.

“The region faces a double burden of malnutrition: 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 …,” Etienne indicated.

To address this situation, FAO and PAHO call on countries to transform their food systems in order to stop the advancement of hunger and malnutrition, paying special attention to the condition of the most vulnerable people, homes and territories.

The publication highlights that only through a great regional effort can the current trend be reversed, to return on the path that made Latin America and the Caribbean a global example of the fight against hunger and malnutrition.

Despite the fact that hunger increased in six countries and fell in 21, the absolute number of people suffering from hunger has increased.

The worst situation in terms of prevalence of hunger is in Haiti, where 47 per cent of the population, that is approximately 5 million people, suffer from hunger. This number represents almost two-thirds of all undernourishment across countries of the Caribbean.

Although hunger at the regional level has increased, 21 countries of the region have lowered their level of undernourishment, including the Caribbean and Mesoamerica as a whole, between 2013-2015 and 2014-2016.
In Brazil, Cuba and Uruguay, the prevalence of undernourishment is less than 2.5 per cent, while in Argentina, Barbados, Chile, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago it is below 5 per cent.

The publication shows that in South America, 7.4 per cent (2.5 million) of children under five years of age suffer from overweight and obesity, as do 6 per cent of children in Central America and 6.9 per cent of children in the Caribbean. Furthermore, a third of adolescents and two thirds of adults suffer from overweight and obesity, women being the most affected.

While acute malnutrition (underweight for the size) has been practically eliminated from children under five years old in the region, there are already 11 per cent suffering from chronic malnutrition (stunting), but it should be noted that 7 per cent of the children suffer from overweight.