'Divergent views' on methods and approaches to tackle malnutrition dominate region

By Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe

- Last updated on GMT

Potatoes for sale in a market in Peru. While Chile, Mexico, and a handful of other countries in the region have policies focused on combating obesity, policies in Peru and some Central American countries are focused on combating hunger. Getty Images / Lorena Galvez
Potatoes for sale in a market in Peru. While Chile, Mexico, and a handful of other countries in the region have policies focused on combating obesity, policies in Peru and some Central American countries are focused on combating hunger. Getty Images / Lorena Galvez

Related tags: Malnutrition

There is a heavy spotlight on how Latin American countries can tackle the contrast between the prevalence of overweight citizens and obesity in the region, its levels of hunger and malnourishment, and its rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Focusing on the effect of failing to tackle these rates and overcome the impact of nutritional contrasts from both a regulatory and societal perspective is vital.

We spoke with David Pineda Ereño, advisor on strategy, policy and regulation at DPE International Consulting about the key challenges the disparity presents.

Support Network Necessity

Historically, the degree of undernutrition in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean regions’ population has presented an ongoing problem. Pineda Ereño highlights that the region is “vast” ​and as such, governments seem unable to tackle this challenge without the support of international intergovernmental organisations. 

These international organisations, which include the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its regional office, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), along with other programmes funded by countries from other regions or by Non-Governmental Organisations, provide an imperative support network that may be key to breaking through and moving beyond the current reality.

“Although much progress has been achieved over the years, undernutrition is an important problem in the region,” ​Pineda Ereño explains.

There is also another form of malnutrition that has emerged in the region: The rate of obesity and the number of overweight citizens. Both forms are “spreading in the region with the highest rates in the populations of Chile and Mexico,” ​Pineda Ereño explains. 

Taking Clear and Concrete Action

As government authorities and legislative representatives are focusing on a variety of measures, David Pineda Ereño, Advisor on Strategy, Policy and Regulation at DPE International Consulting, shares the core approaches leading the way:

  • Reformulation of food and beverages for the reduction of salt, sugar or fat.
  • Limitations on sales of processed foods and beverages in schools and nearby schools.
  • Marketing and advertising restrictions through the requirements of warning statements to include in marketing or advertising campaigns, restrictions of time slots on advertising media or bans on marketing and advertising to children with animated characters.
  • Stricter labelling requirements such as different forms of front of pack labelling or restrictions of use of nutrition and health claims in processed foods and beverages.
  • Taxation of processed foods and beverages through excise taxes and/or VAT application.

Dual Burden

Throughout Latin America, these two forms of malnutrition coexist. Their concurrence makes it very challenging for countries “to sustain, increasing their dependency on the support by international organisations and urging the implementation of different measures to tackle them”​. 

The reported incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) also contributes to the difficulties facing the overall region and individual governments when seeking to improve the rates of obesity, hunger and NCDs affecting its countries.

Increasingly over the last 10 years, government authorities and parliament representatives have placed the “discussion and adoption of concrete legislative and regulatory measures to address these challenges”, ​on the incidence of overweight, obesity and NCDs at “the top of their agendas”​.

Contrasting Approaches

Countries such as Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Uruguay have witnessed, debated and developed initiatives to address these issues for a number of years. However, Pineda Ereño explains that other countries such as Peru and Central American countries were “prioritising the fight against hunger over other challenges”​. Peru, for instance, placed focus on hunger, and has recently now sought to answer rates of obesity and NCDs by implementing concrete measures.

General consensus among different stakeholders in the region 一 ranging from government authorities, legislative representatives, academia, civil society and the industry as a whole  一 accept that the figures reported relating to overweight, obesity and NCDs in Latin America require action. The collective understanding and view is that effective and specific measures are required to overcome these forms of malnutrition. 

Drawing light on the key problem facing Latin America as it works to progress beyond these current rates, Pineda Ereño emphasises: “The differences are, however, on the divergent views regarding which measures to adopt and the approaches to implement them.”

Is Self-Regulation Sufficient?

While, initially, self-regulation appeared the most appropriate and agreed upon method to overcome overweight, obesity and NCDs rates, as both the public and private sectors favoured its incorporation 一 stricter regulation may be the answer.

The proposed self-regulation would result in the reformulation of foods and beverages, as well as stretching throughout multiple phases of the supply chain, including production, labelling, marketing and advertising. Front-of-pack (FOP) labelling is one such area that is gaining increasing interest and attention as a favourable way to provide education and awareness.

Despite its seeming popularity, government authorities and legislative representatives have subsequently highlighted the importance of stricter regulation, particularly considering WHO and PAHO recommendations.

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