SEATTLE, Washington —Latin America, a region primarily comprised of South America and Central America, has a wide range of governmental structures, geographical landmarks, resources and their populations’ qualities of health. As organizations conduct more studies on populations with high hunger rates, many have found severe problems with malnutrition in the combined data for the region of Latin America. Understanding the background, causes and effects of any problem is the first step in finding solutions. Malnutrition in Latin America, especially in children, is an issue that any global citizen can benefit from understanding. It elucidates not only nutritional but also general societal problems anywhere in the world.
Important points about malnutrition in Latin America
Children’s physiologies differ significantly among those who are stunted, wasted and overweight. However, the definition of malnutrition encompasses them all since they stem from the lack of a balanced meal.
In the State of the World’s Children report, UNICEF stated that in 2018, 4.8 million children below the age of five were stunted, 0.7 million wasted and four million overweight in Latin America and the Caribbean. The intergovernmental organization (IGO) found that three in 10 children in Latin America do not consume enough protein. One in five do not eat produce.
Health issues of malnutrition continue as children grow up, as well. Children who do not obtain the proper balance of micronutrients have a higher chance of early death. Furthermore, obesity, especially during childhood, leads to a copious amount of health conditions. These may include diabetes, heart disease, eye problems and more. All of these issues decompose the health of populations and strain healthcare systems.
When looking at the attainability of a resource like nutritious food, socioeconomic status can reveal the specific accessibility problems in a community. UNICEF found that stunting afflicted 50% of children under the age of 5 in Guatemala. Amongst the poor, however, stunting affected 60% of young children while the rich population had a rate of 20% stunting.
Relationship between resources and diet
There is a correlation between resources, such as money or a reliable vehicle, and nutritional diets all around the world. The U.S. is no exception.
Laura Long, MS, RD, LBN, CSP and pediatric dietitian at Wentworth Douglass Hospital in Dover, New Hampshire, told The Borgen Project that patients’ socioeconomic status and their nutrition strongly correlate to one another.
“The population I see consists of children that are malnourished and don’t become stunted but become obese,” Long said.
Generally, the population in the U.S. receives enough calories but is lacking in nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables.
Long mentioned the financial incentive in less nutritious foods. Buying a fast food meal is cheaper than buying the supplies to make dinner at home. Additionally, many people living in poverty, Long says, live in a food desert. This is a setting that makes it financially or geographically difficult to purchase nutritious food.
The malnutrition cycle
Uncovering the causes and effects of malnutrition in Latin America shows that the inadequate nourishment of a population is cyclical. Food insecurity creates a lack of micronutrient-rich diets that will ultimately cause chronic diseases and the subsequent increased risk of death. Pressures from health care expenses and potentially decreased employability ultimately lead to lower household incomes and decreased quality of life.
There are some hints of a decline in malnutrition rates in Latin America. There are very low rates of acute malnutrition—when a child is wasted through low food consumption, causing dramatic weight loss and fluid retention— in Latin America when compared to the rest of the world. Although rates are high for chronic malnutrition, rates of stunted children have declined.
In an attempt to recognize both underweight and obese populations that have nutrient deficiencies, the World Health Assembly set six goals concerning nutrition in 2016 to be achieved by 2025. Some of the goals are: to reduce the number of children under five that are malnourished by 40%, to stop the increase in childhood obesity, and to prevent the prevalence of childhood wasting from exceeding 5%.
Data concerning malnutrition in Latin America demonstrates a general trend of health in a large portion of the world. Policymakers and data analyzers can, therefore, accurately apply the information to countries within the region or to other countries, like the U.S. The wider scope provides perspectives about the broader causes of issues such as malnutrition. Subsequently, this allows various organizations and governments to set more specific goals that will begin to erode the dangerous cycle of malnutrition.
– Jennifer Long