No country in Latin America and the Caribbean has a higher obesity rate than Barbados, according to a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
The report, Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2016, said nearly four in ten Barbadians (36 per cent) were obese.
Overall, the report stated, obesity and overweight were on the rise throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and were particularly prevalent among women and children.
Trinidad and Tobago and Antigua and Barbuda each with 31 per cent obesity, followed closely as the most obese in the region, both above the average of 23 per cent across Latin American and the Caribbean.
It said obesity disproportionately affects women, with the rate of female obesity about ten percentage points higher than that of men in over 20 countries.
In relation to overweight, the report, which was released last week, said at least half the population of all countries in the region were affected, with Haiti at 38.5 per cent, Paraguay at 48.5 per cent and Nicaragua at 49.4 per cent. It did not give the latest overweight statistics for Barbados. However, cardiologist Dr Trevor Hassell said during a health forum last year that
one-third of Barbadian men and three-fifths of women were overweight.
The FAO/PAHO report said nearly 360 million people, or 58 per cent of the inhabitants of the region, were overweight with the Bahamas having the highest rate at 69 per cent, followed by Mexico at 64 per cent and Chile at 63 per cent.
“The alarming rates of overweight and obesity in Latin America and the Caribbean should act as a wake-up call to governments in the region to introduce policies that address all forms of hunger and malnutrition and to do this by linking food security, sustainability, agriculture, nutrition and health,” FAO regional representative Eve Crowley said.
The report said while hunger had fallen to about 5.5 per cent of the regional population, signs of slower economic growth, coupled with the stagnation of poverty reduction, posed significant risks to food and nutrition security, and had prompted a rise in malnutrition.
“Governments must maintain and increase their support to the most vulnerable so as not to undo their progress in the fight against hunger, and to reverse the rise of malnutrition in all its forms,” the report said.
It said in order to achieve the second of the 17 global sustainable development goals, that of reducing hunger, Latin America and the Caribbean must eradicate undernourishment, which affects 5.5 per cent of the regional population.
“The region must also face stunting and overweight, which currently affects 11.3 per cent and 7.2 per cent of children under five, respectively,” it said.
“One of the underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition in all its forms are the inadequate food consumption patterns that exist throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Encouraging healthy eating is a key factor to simultaneously fight hunger, malnutrition, overweight and obesity.”
The experts who compiled the report stressed while some policies already existed to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods, there was need to complement those initiatives with policies that would increase the supply of healthy foods.
“A profound change in the current food system is needed to ensure their sustainability and ability to provide nutritious and accessible food for all, preserving ecosystems through a more efficient and sustainable use of land and natural resources and better techniques for food production, storage and processing,” the report stressed.