Reality tells us that the poorer you are the more likely it is for people to be malnourished rather than hungry.
People are more prone to buying soft drinks than drinking water. They are more fond of eating cheap products with too much sugar, salt and fat than consuming fruit and vegetables.
The reason behind such choices is nothing else than poverty, although being poor result in different outcomes today than say 30 years ago.
While in the past poor people had difficulty getting their hands on anything to eat, today, they have an even more difficult time getting their hands on real food.
Junk food abounds and it is cheaper than water and fruit.
The corporate desire to sell junk food above all and the inaction of governments when it comes to enacting policies that protect people’s access to real food are two of the many culprits.
Obesity has become the greatest nutritional threat in Latin America and the Caribbean, where 644 million people sink deeper and deeper into the deep hole of obesity.
Nearly one in four adults is obese.
Obesity affects 3.9 million children under the age of five, a figure that exceeds the world average of 5.6%, according to the Panorama report of the Food and Nutrition Security of Latin America and the Caribbean from 2018.
The document was presented last Wednesday and prepared by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UNICEF, the World Food Program and the Pan American Health Organization.
The most vulnerable people are low-income people, women, indigenous people, blacks and rural families in general.
Obesity is growing uncontrollably: every year there are 3.6 million more obese people in Latin America and the Caribbean, 250 million people live in with overweight; that is 60% of the population of the area.
The situation is appalling, says the regional representative in Latin America and the Caribbean of the FAO, Julio Berdegué.
If the trend continues, by 2030 the proportion of the population in the region with obesity would increase to 30% of the adult population.
This figure contrasts with the indexes of severe food insecurity, affecting 8.4% of women and 6.9% of men.
The text also highlights that hunger increases for the third consecutive year and reaches 39.3 million people, 6.1% of the population, in an area of the world that has a sufficient amount of food to meet the minimum requirements of calories. It is clear then that the problem is not food availability or lack of production, as many people fear.
The report points out that one of the main causes of the increase in malnutrition in the vulnerable population is changes in the food systems of the region, the cycle of food from production to consumption. People have gone from consuming real food to becoming supermarket customers.
Among other issues such as the growing urbanization indicates the ease of operation of foreign companies and their commitment to processed products.
The authors explain it this way: “Production is the basis of the food supply chain and its growth in Latin America and the Caribbean has been mainly oriented towards export products. This has been accompanied by policies of liberalization, privatization and private sector investment.
This assertion is linked to another one that indicates that transnational food manufacturing, retailing and fast food chains base their services on providing products with high degrees of processing.
It is also added that the deregulation of the markets favors the large food industries and increases the production, sale and consumption of highly processed products.
The solutions would then go on to convince the industry to develop healthier products and influence public policies. That they will never do, since their core business depende on selling cheap, unhealthy products.
We know the measures that must be adopted, what we need is a political decision to place taxes, training and school feeding programs, labeling and social protection.
The central responsibility is for governments, but companies also have a very important responsibility.
“You can not wash your hands. They have to assume it as the tobacco industry,” says Berdegué, who also urges consumers and associations to put this issue on the agenda and demand solutions.
It is important that the policies include actions from production to consumption, going through the processing systems, marketing, international trade in food and all aspects that influence the consumer’s environment.
In the report, part of these suggestions, some already implemented in different countries, go through the adoption of regulations to make the composition of foods understandable or to include taxes on products high in sugar, salt and fats.
These two are the ones that are driving the most obesity in the region. It is also important to regulating misleading advertising and supporting producers of fruits, vegetables and fish.
“We can eradicate hunger, achieve food security and sustainable agriculture”, says FAO.
We know how to do it, how to work in the first 1,000 days of life, in the prevention of the marketing of unhealthy food, with the labeling systems, with the inclusion of nutrition in the educational curriculum.
“We know how to move to healthier diets. It is an ethical decision. The main cause of malnutrition is poverty and inequality,” said María Cristina Perceval, UNICEF director for Latin America and the Caribbean, who has focused on paying special attention to children, pregnant women and infants.
Food systems must be urgently changed to promote fresh, varied, safe food in sufficient quantities for a healthy life. This is the only way to improve protection against malnutrition, which includes diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, heart attacks and cancers.