FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

According to the Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2021, hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean is at its highest point since the year 2000, after a 30 percent increase in the number of people suffering hunger from 2019 to 2020.

In just one year, and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people living with hunger increased by 13.8 million, reaching a total of 59.7 million people.

Four out of every ten people in the region––267 million–– experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2020, 60 million more than in 2019, an increase of 9 percentage points, the most pronounced rise in relation to other world regions.

Key messages

Key messages

  • In 2020, 59.7 million people in LAC were undernourished, which is 13.8 million people more than in 2019, a 30% rise in the number of people living with hunger in just one year.
    • In 2020, 33.7 million people in South America were undernourished; 19 million people in Mesoamerica and 7 million in the Caribbean.

  • Between 2019 and 2020, the prevalence of hunger (percentage of the population) in the region increased by 2 percentage points, reaching 9.1 percent, the highest it has been since the year 2000 and saw a steeper percentage rise than in other regions of the world.
    • In 2020 the undernourished population was 16.1 percent in the Caribbean, 10.6 percent in Mesoamerica (highest value in the last 20 years) and 7.8 percent in South America.

  • During 2020, in Latin America and the Caribbean 267 million people experienced moderate or severe food insecurity, 60 million people more than in 2019, 41 percent of the population.
    • Between 2019 and 2020, the prevalence grew by 9 percentage points, the most pronounced rise in relation to other world regions.
    • In South America between 2014 and 2020, the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity increased by 20.5 percentage points,
    • In Mesoamerica there was an increase of 7.3 percentage points during the same period.

  • In 2020, severe food insecurity (people who had run out of food and, at worst, had gone a day or more without eating) affected 92.8 million people in the region: 27.5 million people more than were affected in 2019, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • The prevalence of severe food insecurity was 14 percent
    • Between 2014 and 2020, the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity almost doubled, from 47.6 million to 92.8 million.

  • In the region in 2016 obesity in adults (≥18 years old) affected 24.2 percent of the adult population, well above the world average of 13.1 percent: There were significant increases between 2000 and 2016: 9.5 percentage points in the Caribbean, 8.2 percentage points and Mesoamerica, 7.2 percentage points in South America.

  • In Latin America and the Caribbean, 7.5 percent of children under five years had overweight in 2020: this prevalence is almost 2 percentage points above the world average and has been increasing over the last 20 years.

  • Despite progress made, the region is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target 2.2 in relation to reducing stunting in children under five years by 50 percent by 2030.

Videos of Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean 2021

Facts and figures

Undernourishment/Hunger

Undernourishment/Hunger

Number of people suffering hunger/undernourishment

In 2020, 33.7 million people in South America were undernourished, accounting for more than half of the undernourished people in the region (56 percent). The number of people experiencing hunger in the South American subregion increased by 18 million people between 2014 and 2020. However, half of this increase (9 million people) occurred between 2019 and 2020 in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This suggests an increase of 36 percent in the number of people living with hunger in just one year.

In Mesoamerica there were 19 million people living with hunger in 2020, representing 32 percent of the undernourished population in the region. This figure is the highest registered in the last 20 years in the Mesoamerican subregion. Between 2014 and 2020, the number of undernourishment people in Mesoamerica rose be 70 percent, its undernourished population increased by 7.8 million people. During the last period, between 2019 and 2020, it increased by 4.6 million people, representing an increase of 32 percent in just one year.

In the Caribbean during 2020, 7 million people were undernourished, representing 12 percent of the undernourished population of the region. Between 2014 and 2020, the Caribbean showed a 9 percent rise in the number of people living with hunger, increasing from 6.4 million to 7 million. The increase over the last year was 300 000 people.

Table 1. Number of people undernourished (millions)

2000

2010

2014

2015

2019

2020

World

800.3

636.8

606.9

615.1

650.3

768.0

Latin America and the Caribbean

56.5

40.7

33.2

36.4

45.9

59.7

Caribbean

7.2

6.5

6.4

6.5

6.8

7.0

Mesoamerica

10.8

11.7

11.2

12.7

14.4

19.0

South America

38.6

22.5

15.7

17.2

24.7

33.7

Source: FAO Note: Values for 2020 are projections.

B) Prevalence (%) of hunger/undernourishment

The prevalence of hunger has been increasing in the region since 2014, with an almost 70 percent increase from 2014 to 2020. The increase between 2019 and 2020 alone represents more than 50 percent of the overall increase during this period.

In South America, the prevalence of hunger in 2020 was 7.8 percent. Between 2014 and 2020, hunger rose from 3.8 percent to 7.8 percent in South America, with an increase of 4 percentage points over six years. Half of this increase occurred during the last year, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, taking the prevalence of undernourishment in South America to its highest level since 2007.

In Mesoamerica, the prevalence of undernourishment is 10.6 percent. Between 2000 and 2019 no significant variations were observed in this hunger indicator in Mesoamerica. However, in the period between 2019 and 2020, the prevalence of undernourishment increased 2.5 percentage points after a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching its highest value in the last 20 years.

In the Caribbean during 2020 hunger affected 16.1 percent of its population and its increase with respect to 2019 was minimal (0.3 percentage points). Although the prevalence is the highest of the three subregions, the majority of the countries show figures below 10 percent and only in Haiti does it exceed 40 percent. The subregion has shown a decreasing trend since 2003, with relative stagnation between 2010 and 2020.

Prevalence of undernourishment (percent) Note: Values for 2020 are projections.

2000

2010

2014

2015

2019

2020

World

13.0

9.2

8.3

8.3

8.4

9.9

Latin America and the Caribbean

10.8

6.9

5.4

5.8

7.1

9.1

Caribbean

18.9

15.9

15.0

15.2

15.8

16.1

Mesoamerica

8.0

7.4

6.7

7.5

8.1

10.6

South America

11.1

5.7

3.8

4.2

5.8

7.8

Source: FAO

The countries with the greatest prevalence of undernourishment in Latin America and the Caribbean during the last available period (2018-2020) are Haiti (46.8 percent), Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) (27.4 percent), Nicaragua (19.3 percent), Guatemala (16.8 percent), Honduras (13.5 percent), the Plurinational State of Bolivia (12.6 percent) and Ecuador (12.4 percent). The rest of the countries with available data have a prevalence of undernourishment below 10 percent, and in Brazil, Cuba and Uruguay the prevalence is less than 2.5 percent.

Between 2013-2015, and 2018-2020, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) showed a significant increase of 22.4 percentage points, its prevalence reaching 27.4 percent. Ecuador and Peru showed increases of more than 3 percentage points, while in Mexico there was an increase of 2.8 percentage points.

Countries that showed improvements in undernourishment figures between the triennials 2013-2015 and 2018-2020, include the Plurinational State of Bolivia (-2.2 percentage points) and El Salvador (-2.1 percentage points).

Food insecurity

Food insecurity

A) Number of people suffering moderate or severe food insecurity

In 2020, moderate or severe food insecurity affected an estimated 267 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, 60.2 million people more than in 2019. This could be explained partly by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2014 and 2020, the number of people experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity increased by 74 percent, rising from 153.8 million to 267.2 million in six years.

In South America in 2020, there were 168.7 million people affected by moderate or severe food insecurity. Between 2014 and 2020, there was a 121 percent increase in the number of people experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity, which is an increase of 92 million people in six years. The increase in the last year alone was 40 million people.

In Mesoamerica in 2020, 67.4 million people experienced moderate or severe food insecurity. This represents an increase of 17.4 million people with respect to 2019.

Table 1. Number of moderately or severely food insecure people (millions) FAO

2014

2016

2018

2019

2020

World

1645.5

1762.9

1978.7

2049.9

2368.2

Latin America and the Caribbean

153.8

197.0

203.3

207.0

267.2

Caribbean

31.0

Mesoamerica

50.3

47.0

47.9

50.0

67.4

South America

76.2

122.2

126.8

128.8

168.7

B) Percentage of moderate or severe food insecurity (prevalence)

In Latin America and the Caribbean, during 2020, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 40.9 percent of the population, well above the world level of 30.4 percent.

Between 2014 and 2020, moderate or severe food insecurity rose by 16 percentage points. More than half of that increase occurred in the last year alone, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, where prevalence rose from 31.9 percent to 40.9 percent, representing a n increase of 9 percentage points, the most pronounced in relation to other regions of the world.

In South America in 2020, the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity was 39.2 percent. Between 2014 and 2020 there was a significant increase of 20.1 percentage points, rising from 18.7 percent to 39.2 percent in six years, thus doubling the prevalence of people in this situation. The variation between 2019 and 2020 was 9.1 percentage points

In Mesoamerica, moderate or severe food insecurity in 2020 was 37.5 percent. This prevalence had not shown significant variation until 2019. However, after a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevalence rose by 9.3 percentage points.

In the Caribbean, the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity was 71.3 percent in 2020.

Table 2. Prevalence of food insecurity (percent) FAO

 

Moderate food insecurity

Severe food insecurity

Moderate or severe food insecurity

2014

2019

2020

2014

2019

2020

2014

2019

2020

World

14.3

16.5

18.5

8.3

10.1

11.9

22.6

26.6

30.4

Latin America and the Caribbean

17.2

21.8

26.7

7.7

10.1

14.2

24.9

31.9

40.9

Caribbean

32.1

39.2

71.3

Mesoamerica

23.7

20.9

26.3

6.5

7.3

11.2

30.2

28.2

37.5

South America

13.3

21.5

26.3

5.4

8.6

12.9

18.7

30.1

39.2

In most of the countries of Mesoamerica, more than 40 percent of the population is affected by moderate or severe food insecurity: Guatemala 49.7 percent, El Salvador 47.1 percent, Honduras 45.6 percent. In South America, moderate to severe food insecurity affects 47.8 percent of the population in Peru, 35.8 percent in Argentina and 32.7 percent in Ecuador.

Between 2014-16 and 2018-20, all the countries that could provide data showed an increase in their prevalence of moderate and or severe food insecurity; specifically, in Argentina it increased by 16.6 percentage points, in Ecuador it increased by 12 percentage points, and in Peru it increased by 10.6 percentage points. Chile and Guatemala showed an increase of 7 percentage points as well as in El Salvador and Brazil where it increased by close to 5 percentage points in both countries.

Between 2017-2019 and 2018-2020, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras showed the biggest increases in the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity. All three countries showed a rise of more than 4 percentage points. Ecuador increased by 3.9 percentage points and Mexico increased by 3.5 percentage points, while in Brazil and Peru the prevalence increased by 2.9 percentage points in each country.

Disparity by gender

The experience of food insecurity did not affect men and women equally: during 2020, 41.8 percent of women in Latin America and the Caribbean experienced moderate or severe food security compared with 32.2 percent of men.

The disparity in the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity between men and women in the region was 4.1 percent during 2014, compared to 6.4 percent during 2019, before jumping to 9.6 percent during 2020.

Figure 9. Prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity by sex, 2020 FAO

C) Severe food insecurity

Number of people suffering severe food insecurity

During 2020, severe food insecurity (people who had run out of food and, at worst, had gone a day or more without eating) affected 92.8 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is 27.5 million people more than were affected in 2019, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Between 2014 and 2020, the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity almost doubled, rising from 47.6 million to 92.8 million in six years.

In South America in 2020, 55.6 million people experienced severe food insecurity. Between 2014 and 2020 in the subregion, there was a 150 percent increase in the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity. This is 33.2 million more people in six years. In the last year alone, the increase was 18.9 million people.

In Mesoamerica in 2020, 20.2 million people experienced severe food insecurity, an increase of 7.2 million people from 2019.

Table 3. Number of severely food insecure people (millions) FAO

2014

2016

2018

2019

2020

World

604.5

620.2

731.3

779.9

927.6

Latin America and the Caribbean

47.6

56.6

61.7

65.3

92.8

Caribbean

17.0

Mesoamerica

10.9

10.5

12.1

13.0

20.2

South America

22.2

31.5

33.3

36.7

55.6

Percentage (prevalence) of people suffering severe food insecurity

The prevalence of severe food insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean during 2020 reached 14.2 percent.

This represents a considerable increase since 2014 when only 7.7 percent of the population was affected. The greatest increase (4.1 percentage points) was recorded between 2019 and 2020 in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In South America, severe food insecurity was 12.9 percent in 2020, 7.5 percentage points higher than in 2014, which is an increase of 139 percent in six years. In the last year alone (between 2019 and 2020), the increase in the subregion was 4.3 percentage points.

In Mesoamerica, the prevalence in 2020 was 11.2 percent, an increase of 3.9 percentage points from 2019. In the Caribbean, the prevalence of severe food insecurity was 39.2 percent.

 

 

Malnutrition and the Sustainable Development Goals

Malnutrition and the Sustainable Development Goals

 

Stunting among children under five

In Latin America and the Caribbean in 2020, the prevalence of stunting in children under five years was 11.3 percent, well below the world average of 22 percent.

Over the last 20 years, significant progress has been made in the region with a 37 percent reduction (-6.7 percentage points) in the prevalence of stunting in children under five years.

Between 2000 and 2020, South America managed to reduce stunting by 41 percent (-6.1 percentage points), Mesoamerica by 35 percent (-8.9 percentage points) and the Caribbean by 25 percent (3.9 percentage points). In 2020, they were 8.6 percent, 16.6 percent and 11.8 percent respectively.

Mesoamerica is the subregion with the greatest prevalence of stunting (16.6 percent). Between 2012 (and 2020, the reduction in stunting in Mesoamerica has been just 7.8 percent, while the Caribbean has achieved a reduction of 11.9 percent and South America 18.6 percent. At the regional level the reduction in the prevalence of stunting has been 13.3 percent.

This means that despite the progress made, Latin America and the Caribbean and its subregions are not on track to achieve the SDG target 2.2 in relation to reducing stunting in children under five years by 50 percent by 2030.

Table 1. Prevalence of stunting among children under five (percent)

2000

2005

2010

2015

2020

World

33.1

30.7

27.7

24.4

22.0

Latin America and the Caribbean

18.0

15.7

13.5

12.0

11.3

Caribbean

15.7

14.5

13.7

12.6

11.8

Mesoamerica

25.5

22.1

18.8

17.4

16.6

South America

14.7

12.8

10.9

9.3

8.6

Source: UNICEF, WHO and World Bank

In 2020 the highest prevalence of stunting in the region was seen in Guatemala (42.8 percent), Ecuador (23.1 percent), Haiti (20.4 percent) and Honduras (19.9 percent). By contrast, Chile, Paraguay and Saint Lucia showed the lowest prevalence, all below 5 percent.

The countries that have tended to increase their prevalence of stunting between 2000 and 2020 are Trinidad and Tobago (+47 percent), Costa Rica (+15 percent) and Jamaica (+12 percent). Despite these increases, these three countries each have a prevalence below 9 percent. In the same period, Paraguay, Peru, the Plurinational State of Bolivia, El Salvador and Uruguay all showed reductions greater than 50 percent.

Wasting among children under five

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the prevalence of wasting is 1.3 percent, significantly lower than the world average of 6.7 percent.

The Caribbean has a slightly higher rate of 2.8 percent, while in South America it is 1.4 percent and in Mesoamerica it is lower than 1 percent.

If these levels are maintained, the region and its subregions will be on track to reach the SDG target of maintaining wasting below 3 percent.

Table 2. Prevalence of wasting among children under five (percent)

2020

World

6.7

Latin America and the Caribbean

1.3

Caribbean

2.8

Mesoamerica

0.9

South America

1.4

Source: UNICEF, WHO and World Bank

The countries that have wasting levels above 3 percent are Barbados with 6.8 percent, Trinidad and Tobago with 6.4 percent, Guyana with 6.4 percent, Suriname with 5.5 percent, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) 4.1 percent and Ecuador 3.7 percent.

Overweight among children under five

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 7.5 percent of children under five years old had overweight in 2020.

This prevalence in the region is 2 percentage points above the world average and has been increasing over the last 20 years.

Of the subregions, South America has the greatest prevalence of overweight with 8.2 percent, followed by the Caribbean with 6.6 percent and Mesoamerica with 6.3 percent.

In South America and the Caribbean, overweight in children under five years has risen in the last 20 years, while in Mesoamerica it has been decreasing since 2010.

If this trend continues, Latin America and the Caribbean and each of its subregions would not be on track to achieve SDG 2 of maintaining overweight in children under five years below 3 percent in 2030.

Table 3. Prevalence of overweight among children under five (percent)

2000

2005

2010

2015

2020

World

5.4

5.7

5.6

5.6

5.7

Latin America and the Caribbean

6.8

7.1

7.2

7.4

7.5

Caribbean

5.8

6.1

6.3

6.5

6.6

Mesoamerica

6.7

6.8

6.7

6.4

6.3

South America

7.0

7.3

7.6

7.9

8.2

Source: UNICEF, WHO and World Bank

According to estimates of overweight in children under five years in the region's countries in 2020, Argentina, Barbados, Cuba, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay have the highest prevalence in the region, all being over 10 percent.

In contrast, the lowest rates of overweight in children under five years are recorded in Haiti (3.7 percent), Suriname (4 percent) and Guatemala (5.1 percent).

In most of the region's countries, overweight in children under five years has tended to increase: between 2000 and 2020 the countries with the largest increases in prevalence were Ecuador (5.3 percentage points), Trinidad and Tobago (5.1 percentage points), Paraguay (4.8 percentage points) and Barbados (3.6 percentage points). Cuba, Guyana, Panama and Honduras all saw increases above 2 percentage points in the same period.

Within the region, only six countries have reduced the prevalence of overweight in children under five years between 2000 and 2020: Belize, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.

Adult obesity

In Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2016, obesity in adults (≥18 years old) affected 24.2 percent of the adult population and was well above the world average of 13.1 percent.

There were significant increases between 2000 and 2016: In the Caribbean there was an increase of 9.5 percentage points, while in Mesoamerica the increase was 8.2 percentage points and in South America it was 7.2 percentage points.

Of the three subregions, Mesoamerica has the highest prevalence of obesity in adults, reaching 27.3 percent in 2016. In the Caribbean the figure was 24.7 percent and in South America obesity affected 23 percent of adults in 2016.

Table 4. Prevalence of obesity among adults (percent)

2000

2005

2010

2014

2015

2016

World

8.7

9.9

11.2

12.5

12.8

13.1

Latin America and the Caribbean

16.6

18.9

21.2

23.2

23.7

24.2

Caribbean

15.2

17.8

20.8

23.4

24.0

24.7

Mesoamerica

19.1

21.6

24.1

26.2

26.7

27.3

South America

15.8

18.0

20.2

22.1

22.5

23.0

Source: WHO

Obesity in adults showed an increase between 2000 and 2016 in all the countries of the region: Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Haiti increased by more than 10 percentage points.

The Bahamas is among the countries with highest prevalence of obesity in adults in 2016 with a prevalence of more than 30 percent. While in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Suriname and Uruguay, obesity affected more than 25 percent of adults.

 

 

Regional Launch Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean 2021

Questions and Answers

1. What’s the United Nations’ forecast on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the hunger and food insecurity levels in Latin America and the Caribbean?

1. What’s the United Nations’ forecast on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the hunger and food insecurity levels in Latin America and the Caribbean?

For now, there isn't an estimate that can explain accurately the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on hunger and food insecurity in the region. The pandemic has affected every area of human life, bringing economies to a stop and prompting profound social changes, deepening the already huge structural and social gaps in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Yet, the most recent data shows an important increase in hunger, surely attributable in some way to the COVID-19 pandemic ­­- between 2019 and 2020, the number of hungry people rose 13.8 million (over 30 percent growth), reaching 59.7 million hungry people. The prevalence of hungry people grew by 2 percent.

It is worth pointing out that the COVID-19 pandemic hit the region at a time when hunger and food security were on the rise ­­- between 2014 and 2020, hungry people increased by 79 percent, and moderate or severe food insecurity by 74 percent.

Just between 2019 and 2020, 60 million more people faced either moderate or severe food insecurity increased, an increase of more than 28 percent, reaching 267 million in total, 41 percent of the regional population. It amounts to a 9 percentage point growth, the highest of all regions in the world.

Severe food insecurity, that is, people who faced hunger or spent a whole day without eating, affected 92.8 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean during 2020, 27.5 million more people than in 2019 (a 4.1 percentage point increase).

2. Why do hunger and food insecurity have increased more in Latin America and the Caribbean than in other regions of the world?

2. Why do hunger and food insecurity have increased more in Latin America and the Caribbean than in other regions of the world?

 

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the regional countries' economies and people's incomes and jobs hard, impacting the poverty, hunger and food insecurity levels.

Latin America and the Caribbean was one of the most affected regions by the pandemic, as evidenced by the fact that, having only 8.4 percent of the total population of the world, the region accounted for more than a quarter of the deaths (27.8 percent) attributed to COVID-19.

No regional economy was untouched by the pandemic. Latin America and the Caribbean's gross domestic product (GDP) fell 7.7 percentage points in 2020, while the unemployment rate rose 2.6 percent. Also, it is worth noting that employment in the region is mostly informal (57 percent).

Although preventive and protection measures played an important part in keeping economies running, 22 million people more than in 2019 faced poverty in 2020, reaching a total of 209 million in the region. Historically, one of Latin America and the Caribbean's main features has been its high levels of inequality, and the pandemic has deepened it - between 2019 and 2020, the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality in a country, rose by 5.6 percent.

The social, economic and sanitary impact of the pandemic have made the region take an unprecedented step back in its struggle against hunger. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a vast number of people and families have had not access or sufficient income to buy food in the quantity and nutritional quality needed to ensure their health and development.

Thus, hunger, food insecurity and undernourishment by overnutrition (obesity and overweight) have increased, though they were on the rise even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the region, mainly due to stagnant economic growth rates and the high cost of healthy diets.

 

 

3. What can countries and their governments do to contain the rising levels of all forms of malnutrition and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis?

3. What can countries and their governments do to contain the rising levels of all forms of malnutrition and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis?

 

Income reduction and loss of jobs among vulnerable people mean that a part of the population receded into poverty and hunger. On the other hand, enforced lockdowns and loss of income lead to reduced access to food in quantity in quality needed for a healthy life, and force to replace higher-priced food for less healthy diets made up of ultra-processed foods or products high in sugar, calories and saturated fats, which in turn leads to overweight and obesity.

Hence, countries should strive for economic recovery and policies that promote employment, especially among the most affected social groups, which includes, among others, women and people inhabiting lagging territories.

In general, people who live in poverty haver their jobs as their sole means of income - when they have better jobs, they enjoy a better and more constant food consumption and better quality of life. Hence, policies that foster income creation are essential, and also help reduce hunger.

Social protection fulfills a central role. It can potentially promote income creation, support resilience-building for people living in vulnerable conditions, and speed up improvements in food security and nutrition. Ensuring the continuity of social protection programs that benefit families, such as money transfers and food aid, will be crucial until the people most affected by the pandemic can recover their jobs and income.

Social protection programs and the creation of economic opportunities must be accompanied by health (including water sanitation and other sanitation measures) and educational (related to food and nutrition, especially during the first years of life) interventions. These are known as "nutrition-sensitive social protection" measures.

The countries' school meal programs are one of the most important nutrition-sensitive social protection measures. With the right coverage, nutritional quality, and necessary infrastructure, they can improve the nutritional conditions of boys, girls, and teenagers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many students couldn't go to school, thus affecting their food intake. Thus, it is critical to ensure the continuity of these programs as regular public polices, especially in the face of natural disasters or sanitary crises, to safeguard food supply in any scenario.

Given that family farming and artisanal fishing are the main sources of income and food for a vast part of the population, backing the means of living of the people dedicated to these activities is critical. Doing so encourages economic recovery at a local level, and guarantees food security for a good part of the population. Especially important for this goal are policies that tend to improve access to financial and non-financial assets and to rural services, as well as diversification of production, and the expansion of digital innovation for commerce.

We also recommend the implementation of food and nutrition security plans focused on boys, girls and teenagers, women, and social groups and territories most affected by the pandemic. This includes policies such as food-labeling, which seeks to incentivize the consumption of healthy foods to the detriment of products high in sugar, calories, salt, and saturated fats.

Lastly, implementing policies that help build resilience in those links of the agri-food system, as evidenced by the pandemic, most vulnerable to shock, such as wholesale markets, local and neighborhood markets, some key agro-industries, and transportation and logistics.

All these policies require political commitment and intersectoral coordination, which ultimately means the right human and financial capabilities, sustained through time, and the participation of different actors and sectors of the agri-food system.

4. How has food insecurity evolved in the region in recent years?

4. How has food insecurity evolved in the region in recent years?

 

The region has experienced a significant decline in food insecurity figures in recent years. Between 2014 and 2020, the number of moderately or severely food insecure people increased by 74 percent, or from 153.8 million to 267.2 million in the last six years. Between 2019 and 2020, there was the most significant rise, increasing by 60.2 million in just one year.

In 2020, severe food insecurity affected 92.8 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, 27.5 million more than in 2019. Between 2014 and 2020, severely food insecure people nearly doubled, from 47.6 million to 92.8 million.

 

 

5. Does food insecurity affect men and women alike?

5. Does food insecurity affect men and women alike?

 

Food insecurity does not affect men and women alike. In 2020, 41.8 percent of women suffered some degree of food insecurity, in comparison to 32.4 percent of men.

The disparity between sexes has been rising since 2014, the biggest increases registered between 2019 and 2020, during the pandemic. Thus, social protection policies and food security plans with a gender focus are more important than ever.

6. ¿What is the overweight and obesity situation in the region?

6. ¿What is the overweight and obesity situation in the region?

7.5 percent of the children under the age of 5 (3.9 million) were overweight in Latin America and the Caribbean during 2020, almost 2 percentage points over the world average. The region has suffered a sustained increase in overweight children in the last 20 years.

Among the sub-regions, South America has the highest levels of overweight children under the age of 5. Both in South America and the Caribbean overweight among children has been increasing during the last 20 years, while in Mesoamerica it has been diminishing since 2010. Only six countries in the region reduced their prevalence in the last 20 years: Belize, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru.

Obesity affects 24.2 percent of the adult population (106 million) in Latin America and the Caribbean, quite more than the world average (13.1 percent). Also, it increased by 9.5 percentage points between 2000 and 2016 (the last available data).

Adult obesity has increased the most in the Caribbean and Mesoamerica, the latter having the highest levels of adult obesity in the region (27.3 percent).

7. Where is stunting among children most prevalent?

7. Where is stunting among children most prevalent?

 

Stunting implies low height for age and reflects the effects of chronic malnutrition on child growth, with profound consequences for development and health.

In 2020, the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 in Latin America and the Caribbean (11.6 percent) was below the world average of 22 percent. The prevalence of stunting has diminished by 37 percent during the past two decades, but since 2012 the rate of reduction has slowed down.

The countries that have tended to increase their prevalence of stunting between 2000 and 2020 are Trinidad and Tobago (+47 percent), Costa Rica (+15 percent) and Jamaica (+12 percent). Despite these increases, these three countries each have a prevalence below 9 percent. In the same period, Paraguay, Peru, the Plurinational State of Bolivia, El Salvador and Uruguay all showed reductions greater than 50 percent.

8. How far is Latin America and the Caribbean from meeting Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2, Zero Hunger?

8. How far is Latin America and the Caribbean from meeting Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2, Zero Hunger?

 

Even before the pandemic, which made things worse, the chances of the region meeting this goal were scarce. Hunger has returned to 15-year-old levels, and moderate and severe food insecurity rose by 74 percent in only six years (between 2014 and 2020) - eradicating hunger and putting and end to all forms of malnutrition by 2030 seems chimeric at best.

Also, despite stunting in children under 5 diminished during the last 20 years, overweight in the same age group increased. As mentioned in question 6, the prevalence of overweight among children under 5 in Latin America and the Caribbean is 7.5 percent. If this trend doesn't change, the region will not meet the goal of keeping this prevalence under 3 percent.

With regards to stunting among children under 5, important progress has been made in the region (SDG 2.2) - prevalence decreased from 18 to 11.3 percent between 2012 and 2020, but in the last eight years (2012 to 2020) the rate of decrease has slowed down, delaying the region from cutting to half stunting and meeting this SDG goal.

9. Despite important progress made in Latin America and the Caribbean to reduce stunting, it has stagnated in recent years. ¿What explains this?

9. Despite important progress made in Latin America and the Caribbean to reduce stunting, it has stagnated in recent years. ¿What explains this?

 

Both hunger and food insecurity have increased in the region since 2014, impacting the supply of food and the ability to improve children's nutrition. Despite the great progress made across the region to reduce stunting, regional and sub-regional averages hide different realities between sub-regions, countries, and even within countries. Averages neither reflect accurately the high poverty levels in lagging territories or the deep inequality in the region, between countries and within them.

Latin America and the Caribbean is a region with high levels of social inequality, the effects of which can be seen in the social determinants of health in children´s nutrition. These determinants are the circumstances in which people are born, work, live, and grow old, plus the even more ample set of forces and systems that affect everyday life. To greater levels of inequality, greater are the possibilities to develop higher levels of chronic malnutrition.

Although the social determinants of health are shared, the preponderance of one or the other vary according to the territory, which allows to explain the differences in stunting among the regions, sub-regions and countries. In other words, the territories' distinct features govern which determinants are more important.

For instance, in 2020 the highest prevalence in stunting among children under 5 were in Guatemala (42.8 percent), Ecuador (23.1 percent), Haiti (20.4 percent), and Honduras (19.9 percent). On the other hand, the lowest stunting rates were in Chile, Paraguay, and Saint Lucia, all below 5 percent.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the countries lagging in stunting are located in rural areas. These are areas with higher poverty levels, low income, low educational levels, greater informal employment, less access to services, and a greater proportion of indigenous and afro-descendant population. All of which contribute in some sort to the stagnation in the reduction of stunting.

The COVID-19 pandemic has without a doubt had profound impacts on Latin America and the Caribbean, increasing poverty, hunger, and food insecurity. It poses huge challenges in the coming years to the fight against all forms of malnutrition.

Photos

Panorama 2021