BOGOTA, April 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than
two thirds of people living in Chile, Ecuador and Mexico are
overweight or obese, costing their economies tens of billions of
dollars every year, driving rates of disease and straining
health services, a U.N. report said on Tuesday.
While the number of hungry people in Latin America and the
Caribbean has halved in the last 25 years, the region is now
struggling to combat an obesity epidemic.
Changing diets, including more processed food that are high
in salt, sugar and fat, along with more sedentary life styles
have triggered a rising tide of obesity, experts say.
"The implications for the future of countries are
frightening ... undernutrition is declining, but overnutrition
is expected to become the largest social and economic burden in
the region," the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said in a
The report by the WFP and the U.N.'s Economic Commission for
Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said over the next six
decades people being overweight and obesity would cost Mexico an
estimated $13 billion a year, Ecuador $3 billion and Chile $1
Undernutrition, when people do not get enough food, and
obesity - itself a form of malnutrition - are two sides of the
same coin, and together they inflict a so-called "double burden"
of disease on people and economies, the report said.
Undernutrition impairs child growth and brain development,
while obesity can led to type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart
"We now witness a worrying trend among vulnerable
communities with cases of undernourishment and overweight
simultaneously within the same families," said Miguel Barreto,
WFP's regional director said in a statement.
"Both undernourishment and overweight represent a serious
burden for the health of those families, that eventually
translates into losses in productivity, and in pressure on the
health and education systems in the country where they live."
According to the World Health Organisation, obesity is an
epidemic worldwide, killing 2.8 million adults every year, and
obesity-related conditions now cause more deaths than hunger.
In Latin America, obesity is increasingly affecting the
region's poor, particularly women.
In Mexico, a country that faces one of the world's most
acute obesity crisis, 74 percent of women are obese or
overweight compared with 70 percent of men, the report said.
The report urged food companies to play a greater role in
"The food industry has the opportunity to ensure the
production, availability and accessibility of healthier food
products," it said.
Governments should also do more to promote exercise and
health eating and place greater controls on food labelling.
The report noted Chile's efforts to combat obesity,
including an 18 percent tax on sugary drinks introduced in 2014
- one of the world's highest - along with laws that restrict the
advertising of unhealthy foods targeting children.
In 2014, Mexico also introduced a 10 percent tax on fizzy
drinks, and 2016 research by the British Medical Journal found
that the sugar tax led to a 12 percent reduction in sales during
the first year it was implemented.
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by
Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)