in her home in Belle Anse, Haiti,
May 22, 2013
(AP photo by Dieu Nalio Chery).
Since 2000, the number of Latin Americans suffering from undernourishment has dropped from more than 60 million to 39 million.
From Mexico to Argentina, leaders have felt optimistic.
Compared to Africa and Asia, few
places in the developing world were tackling food security and
nutrition-related health risks with quite the same rigor and
But since then, the number of undernourished
people in the world has actually grown, now having surpassed 820
million, the highest in seven years. Despite its track record, Latin
America has hardly been immune to this trend.
Complicating the situation in Latin America is what the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, the FAO, calls the "double burden" of malnutrition:
A new U.N. report on food security in Latin America paints a complex and increasingly worrisome picture of nutrition standards.
Currently, 250 million people are overweight in Latin America - 60 percent of its total population - with about 3.5 million more each year.
Whereas 5.6 percent of children under the age of 5 are
overweight worldwide, in Latin America that figure is over 7
percent, a situation the FAO called "appalling."
But countries in South America, such as,
...continue to show increases as well (read also "Diet, sugary drinks, and obesity in Peru").
Chile and Argentina,
which also suffer from some of the worst obesity rates in the
region, have made some strides in recent years, due to increased
marketing regulations that make junk food less attractive to
Uncertain access to food can lead to
inexpensive, high-calorie meals that have low nutritional value,
which results in obesity. But it can just as easily lead to hunger,
if it means an insufficient intake of calories and proteins.
In Venezuela, where an economic crisis
under President Nicolas Maduro's government, has
left supermarket shelves bare, hunger has tripled since 2010, now
affecting over 11 percent of the population.
contributing to obesity
throughout Latin America
appear to also be the ones
that result in undernourishment.
Both under- and over-weight households have, on average, higher medical costs - sometimes by over 50 percent - which can cut into their ability to spend on the other needs of a family.
Malnutrition on each side
of the spectrum also lowers productivity in the classroom, worsening
a student's performance and raising the probability that he or she
will repeat a grade, or decide to leave school altogether.
All told, these factors can negatively affect a country's GDP by
between 1.7 and 11.4 percent.
and Haiti are notably troublesome cases, but Guatemala is by far the
worst, with 46.5 percent of children suffering from stunted physical
Last year, Guatemala's Congress passed a "school feeding" law that increased the budget for food per student by 75 percent.
However, the country's most recent census revealed that nearly 150,000 kids in Guatemala don't attend school.
because a disproportionate number of them live in areas where
undernourishment is severe, it appears that the kids most in need of
government assistance are not all able to benefit from the policy.
The amount of available milk, grains and fish is significantly lower than the world average in many Latin American countries, even though some, such as,
...actually produce enough food on their own to create a surplus for their populations.
communities still continue to lack access to them.
If poorer people across the region felt the least impact of economic
growth when the times were supposedly good, whether in terms of food
security or otherwise, what will happen if growth continues to
To keep pace with that agenda, stunted growth rates will have to drop by 40 percent by 2025. Most Latin American countries are set to hit this target, or at least come close.
But the U.N. says they can only do so by increasing their
assistance to the people who are most vulnerable.