Obesity Weighs on Latin America After Success in Fight Against Hunger

Anastasia Moloney and Chris Arsenault, Yahoo! News, February 13, 2015

Ordering fried chicken at a fast-food restaurant in Colombia’s capital, Paola Flores is one of millions of Latin Americans struggling with obesity, an epidemic hitting this region harder than others in the developing world.

More than 56 percent of Latin American adults are overweight or obese, compared to a global average of 34 percent, according to a report by the Overseas Development Institute last year.

The growing problem often affects the poorest in society, and threatens to overwhelm Latin America’s public health systems and curtail economic gains in the long run, experts say.

“Buying a family combo of fried chicken, chips and a soft drink can feed me and my three children at a price I can afford,” Flores, a secretary, said as she stood in line.

Since 1991, the number of hungry people in Latin America has nearly halved to 37 million in December from 68.5 million. While the region is the only one that is on track to meet U.N. goals on reducing hunger by 2015, far less attention has been paid to combating obesity.


Obesity is the fastest-growing chronic disease, killing 2.8 million adults every year. Obesity-related conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, now cause more deaths than hunger, according to the World Economic Forum.


Mexico faces the region’s most acute obesity crisis, with 70 percent of adults overweight or obese, according to Mexico’s National Institute for Public Health (INSP).

“Obesity in some countries in Latin America, like Mexico, is an epidemic where extreme measures need to be taken,” Juan Rivera, head of INSP’s health and nutrition research center, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Obesity cost the Mexican economy an estimated $5.5 billion in 2008, he said, and if the problem is not addressed, the figure is expected to hit $12.5 billion by 2017.


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