GUATEMALA CITY — Like many people living in Latin America, Guatemalan citizens rely heavily on a diet of rice and beans. While rice and beans is a classic dietary combination seen throughout the developing world due to its affordability and long shelf life, the pair can leave a nutritional void. The prevalence of the gastrointestinal disease gastritis in Guatemala is, in part, due to inadequate sustenance wreaking havoc on the digestive tract.
Gastritis is characterized by inflammation or irritation of the stomach lining caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. Other health issues, such as ulcers and stomach cancer, can arise as a result of gastritis. The disease is especially pervasive in developing parts of the world, such as Latin America. Countries like Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala exhibit gastritis-related mortality rates more than five times higher than those seen in the U.S.
Recent studies have found that various factors related to socioeconomic status influence the difference in H. pylori infection rates between developed and undeveloped countries. Contaminated water supply and overcrowded living conditions, which are typical for individuals living in poverty, correlate with higher rates of gastritis. The poor diet eaten by impoverished individuals renders their gastrointestinal system particularly vulnerable to H. pylori infection, further increasing their risk of contracting gastritis.
Andreas Orozco is a doctor who works with Vida, an organization that brings veterinary, dental and healthcare clinics to impoverished regions of Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala. Gastritis is the most common digestive ailment Orozco confronts in her Guatemalan clinics. “The food they are eating is not appropriate,” Orozco told The Borgen Project.
Despite the fact that many poor Guatemalans are farmers with access to fresh, healthy produce, they eat a diet consisting mostly of rice, black beans, soda, coffee and junk food. According to Orozco, the temptation of inexpensive junk food and the ability to buy cheap, bulk quantities of rice and beans to feed large families results in the destructive diet of impoverished Guatemalans.
Unfortunately, the high iron content of black beans, as well as the deleterious effects of junk food, result in the prevalence of gastritis diagnoses in Guatemala. Poor health and poverty are then exacerbated when sick individuals seek large amounts of expensive pain medicine to appease the discomfort of their gastritis.
In order to reduce and prevent gastritis in Guatemala, Orozco stresses the importance of circulating information about necessary lifestyle changes.
“Education is the most important thing, explaining why it is important to eat properly,” she says. “[In Vida clinics], we explain to them that they have the resources in their communities.”
Despite its prevalence, cases of gastritis in Guatemala have decreased nearly 17 percent since 1990. Luckily, gastritis is an acute disease, meaning that, unlike conditions such as diabetes, it can be cured. With the spread of helpful information by people like Orozco and organizations like Vida, it is very probable that Guatemala will exhibit even fewer cases of gastritis in years to come.
– Mary Efird