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FAO chief sounds the alarm on obesity in Latin America and the Caribbean

Eradicating all forms of malnutrition is the goal, Graizano da Silva tells Regional Conference

Photo: REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
A young boy eats a hamburger at a Peruvian fast-food restaurant in Lima.
6 March 2018, Montego Bay, Jamaica – FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva urged governments around Latin America and the Caribbean to keep the fight against hunger at the top of their policy agendas, calling also for a “radical transformation” of food systems to combat the spreading scourge of overweight and obesity.

“Eradicating hunger must not be our only concern… in a region where 7 percent of children under the age of five are overweight and 20 percent of adults in 24 countries are obese,” he said in opening remarks to the 35th FAO Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean

For the first time ever, all 33 countries of the region are attending the three-day meeting, which ends Thursday. 

“We need to create really sustainable food systems in which production, trade, transport and consumption combine to guarantee a really nutritional food intake,” Graziano da Silva said, recalling that Sustainable Development Goal 2 emphasizes the need to eradicate all forms of malnutrition. 

“Eating fresh locally-grown produce in place of highly-processed foods is fundamental,” he added. 
Overweight and obesity constitute a “global epidemic” today and is spreading in developed and developing countries alike, the Director-General said. 

Worldwide, some 1.9 billion adults are overweight and 650 million obese, according to FAO’s data. The situation is especially worrying in Latin America, where 96 million adults are obese. 

Hunger persists but its eradication is possible

Latin America and the Caribbean set an example when, in 2015, it became the first region in the world to achieve the two international hunger-reduction goals, Graziano da Silva recalled. 

However, the number of people suffering from undernutrition in the region has since risen to 42.5 million from 40 million, according to the Panorama of Food and Nutritional Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2017.

Despite that disturbing setback, FAO’s Director-General expressed conviction that the same political will that led to the earlier achievements will allow the recent reversal to be overcome. 

Countries should continue crafting more inclusive social, economic and productive policies, and on legal frameworks and governance systems necessary to assure progress towards food security for all. 

“This is essential for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States to deliver on their pledge to achieve Zero Hunger in 2025,” Graziano da Silva said. 

He welcomed the successful work of Parliamentary Fronts against Hunger, established in 19 countries around the region. 

More social protection and stronger family farming sectors

A combination of social protection measures along with initiative aimed at strengthening family farming, which can generate local development and enable more vibrant economic territories, is crucial to reduce rural poverty and combat the various forms of malnutrition, the Director-General said in his speech. 

He urged governments to take advantage of the Decade of Family Farming recently proclaimed by the United Nations and starting in 2019 with the goal of drawing more attention to the people who produce more than 80 percent of the world’s food and yet, paradoxically, are often the most vulnerable to hunger. 

Climate change: mitigation and adaptation

Climate change is profoundly affecting the food and agricultural systems all over the World, and recent natural disasters such as the earthquake in Mexico and the hurricanes that devastated vast stretches of territory in Central America and the Caribbean show that the region is particularly vulnerable. 

FAO is urging countries to promote the adaptation of agriculture to the changing climate, and to do so in a way that protects poor rural communities. 

Graziano da Silva noted that FAO offers an array of services to member states in project design and resource mobilization. Last week the Green Climate Fund approved a $90 million disbursement to support a project FAO helped the Government of Paraguay develop. 

Conserving biodiversity in the region, which is home to a great variety of plant and animal species that are important for farming, food and tourism, is also of great importance, he added. 

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