New United Nations report reveals the inequality in the geographical distribution of malnutrition in Latin America & the Caribbean
The United Nations calls for the targeting of new policies & investments in the lagging territories of Latin America & the Caribbean.
December 2, 2020, Santiago de Chile – A new United Nations report shows the territorial inequality of malnutrition in the countries of Latin America & the Caribbean.
The Regional Overview of Food & Nutrition Security in Latin America & the Caribbean 2020 analyzes child overweight & stunting in the countries of the region, & identifies which territories are highly lagging, that is, those that exhibit levels significantly higher than the national averages.
According to the report, child overweight in the highly lagging territories of the region is twice as high as in the territories with no lag: 13.1% versus 6.6%. Stunting, meanwhile, reaches 27.6% in the territories which are highly-lagging, & only 11.9% in those with no lag.
“National averages hide territorial inequalities. In each country we have places that have reached very good standards, & others where conditions are very deleterious. It is essential that countries focus their efforts & channel resources towards their lagging territories, with solutions tailored to each one of them,” said Julio Berdegué, FAO’s Regional Representative.
One out of every five territories analyzed by the Panorama are lagging behind in both stunting & child overweight: these territories are usually rural, with high levels of poverty & a high presence of indigenous & Afro-descendant population.
“The Panorama confirms the urgent need to invest in rural areas & in family farming. First, because rural areas & populations are the most affected by the problems of malnutrition, & second, because for this region, where the cost of a healthy diet is the highest in the world, it is key to promote food systems that favor access to nutritious, diverse & affordable food, which can only be done by supporting family farming”, said Rossana Polastri, IFAD Director for Latin America & the Caribbean.
The Panorama is a joint publication of the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); the Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization (PAHO / WHO); the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) & the United Nations World Food Program (WFP).
“This report confirms the need for the governments of the region to expand their existing social protection networks & increase social spending so their benefits reach the most vulnerable people affected by food insecurity during the pandemic,” said Miguel Barreto, Director Regional WFP for Latin America & the Caribbean.
Stunting is disproportionately high in rural territories
According to the Panorama, in 23 countries there are 142 territories in which stunting is significantly higher than the national average: the difference between the highly lagging & non-lagging territories reaches 48 percentage points in Panama & 34 in Guatemala, & is particularly marked in Belize, Colombia, Guyana & Honduras.
Stunting is disproportionately high in rural territories, with less access to services, predominantly informal labor markets, with high levels of poverty & low levels of schooling.
Child overweight continues to rise
According to the Panorama, overweight in children under five affected 7.5% of the region’s child population in 2019, above the world average of 5.6%.
The Panorama identified 141 territories lagging behind with regard to child overweight in 22 countries in the region, & highlights that this phenomenon affects large cities & the capitals of each country more severely, unlike what happens with stunting, which occurs more in rural areas.
The countries with the largest differences between their territories which are highly lagging & those with no lag are Jamaica (17.5 percentage points), Guyana (14.7 percentage points), Panama (14 percentage points), Bolivia (12.7 percentage points) & Peru (10 percentage points).
The pandemic pummels the region
The Panorama highlights that the impact of the pandemic occurs at a time when regional food security was already in clear deterioration: in 2019, 47.7 million people, 7.4% of the population, lived with hunger, a increase of more than 13 million in the last five years alone. Furthermore, more than 190 million people lived in moderate or severe food insecurity, which implies that one in three inhabitants of Latin America did not have access to sufficient & nutritious food in 2019.
“In Latin America & the Caribbean, the strong economic blow of the pandemic has left millions of families with fewer resources to buy nutritious food,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for Latin America & the Caribbean. “Not receiving a healthy diet between the ages of 6 months & 2 years puts children at risk of malnutrition. In order for them to grow healthy in times of the pandemic, it is urgent to ensure the availability of healthy food at affordable prices.”
The new report also warns about the increase in overweight & obesity, which has occurred in all age groups: in 2016, 315 million people (almost half of the region’s population) were overweight & obese, compared to 239 million in 2006. This is particularly serious due to the evidence that obesity is associated with the risk of suffering worse effects in the event of a COVID19 infection.
“The uneven distribution of resources & opportunities is leaving many people behind & COVID-19 is projected to increase all forms of childhood malnutrition, including stunting, micronutrient deficiencies, & overweight & obesity,” said Anselm Hennis, Director of the PAHO/WHO Department of Noncommunicable Diseases & Mental Health. “It is necessary to reform food & nutrition systems, & provide populations with optimal nutrition,” he added.