Andy Warhol once said that one of the greatness of the United States was a consumption tradition that did not distinguish among social classes. "The richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest," he said, stressing the fact that US food marketing was capable of generating products with a universal appeal. This vision, somehow forecasting the upcoming globalization phenomenon, could serve as a clear precedent of the changes in food production and consumption that the world has witnessed in these past few decades. Not because it has involved a food democratization process necessarily, but because more and more countries have progressively welcomed a model that, through integrating into international markets, relies on ultra-processed products, leaves aside the nutritional value of food, sacrifices traditional forms of production and often translates into large amounts of food waste.
It is the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, a region largely capable of producing above the needs of its population. According to the Panorama of Food and Nutritional Security in Latin America and the Caribbean, a recent publication by FAO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), overweight now affects about 58% of people in the region. This is roughly 360 million people, of whom 140 (23%) are obese. Interpreting this data requires caution –we are talking about a large and diverse region, with a great number of disparities between nations. However, it is clear that there is a progressive and worrying trend towards overweight throughout the whole area. It has affected more than half the population of all countries except Haiti (38.5%), Paraguay (48.5%) and Nicaragua (49.9%). At the top of the list are the Bahamas, Mexico and Chile, with 69, 64 and 63% respectively.
The causes of this progression can be found in new feeding and food production patterns that are present, to a greater or lesser extent, in all the countries of the region. Moreover, in line with what Warhol said when he talked about consumption accessibility, these products and the eating behaviors they promote are no longer limited to high-income households. In fact, middle- and low-income countries have also experienced, and at a greater speed, substantial changes in their diet, in what could be described as a general tendency, a mainstreaming of values that affects all stages of food production and consumption. Thus, overweight is no longer an exclusive feature of the richest, but it is the rich countries that lead the trend. The Bahamas, for instance, which is the third country in per capita income in the region, not only presents the highest percentage of obesity in adults, it is also one of the countries with the highest prevalence of overweight in children.
In a dramatic contrast, however, hunger does prevail among the poor. 34 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean still do not have access to the food they need. Hardly 850 km separate the Bahamas from Haiti, its counterpart, which has become the world's most malnourished country with 53 percent of its population underfed. The percentage worsens when we look at women and children, especially in rural areas. "This is where governments need to focus their efforts," says Eve Crowley, Deputy Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean.
To read the rest of this article (in Spanish), click here.
by Jordi Vaqué,
Information and Communications, FAO Investment Center, Latin America and the Caribbean Division (TCIC)
The data mentioned in this article is based on the publication Panorama of Food and Nutritional Security in Latin America and the Caribbean. Click here to access the FAO web page about it.
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