With malnutrition in children as a pending problem for most of its countries, Latin America now faces a "emerging debt" Given the rise in the figures for overweight and obesity, warned the director of Nutrition and Child Development of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), Víctor Aguayo.
The official, who began a tour in Paraguay that will initially take him to Argentina and this year to at least ten other countries, spoke in an interview with EFE about the current "polycrisis" world, which combines the pandemic, a war of "almost global dimension" such as Ukraine, local conflicts -many of them chronic- and the climate crisis, among others, and its effects on the nutrition of children, adolescents and women.
LATIN AMERICA WITH OUTSTANDINGS
For this expert, Latin America is, from a global perspective, a "advanced region"since their levels of child malnutrition are comparatively "much lower than in other regions, such as the Asian or African regions"but where also "there are important child nutrition problems that still need to be solved".
"There is no country that can say: ‘child malnutrition is no longer a problem in my Latin American country.’ All countries still have an outstanding debt"explained Aguayo, who observed, "with her and with her, an emerging debt regarding childhood overweight and obesity"as a form of malnutrition.
Hence, he assured that with his visit he seeks to see how Unicef can provide a solution "to that final stretch of the elimination of child malnutrition in the continent"while solving other nutritional problems "which also pose a threat to the well-being of children and also to the future of countries".
Among other challenges, he pointed out that the pandemic has not been a trigger, "but an aggravating factor of pre-existing problems"but it has also affected programs such as prenatal control due to women’s fear of approaching health systems that focused on the response to the virus.
On the world stage, Aguayo warned of a "polycrisis" either "almost a perfect storm"which is being translated into a "food and nutrition crisis of dimensions almost unknown to date".
Said crisis, he added, is characterized by a "food system disruption"which supposes that "it is increasingly difficult to feed children healthy for an increasing number of families" that replace "foods of higher nutritional quality" for those "cheaper"mainly ultra-processed, with an excess of calories, fat, salt and sugar, which allow "fill the stomach".
In this context, Aguayo considered "extremely immense" the proportion of overweight and obese children in the world.
"In the next 5 years we are going to cross that point where, in fact, we are going to have more overweight and obese children than malnourished children."he warned, indicating that at this moment there are some 149 million children under 5 years of age with chronic malnutrition in the world and some 136 million children from 5 to 10 years of age who are overweight and obese.
"And our prediction -he added- is that between now and 2030 we are going to cross that point at which we are going to have, in fact, more overweight and obese children than malnourished children".
In this sense, he considered that Latin American countries have to make infant feeding "a state priority" and advance in the regulation of the distribution and consumption of ultra-processed foods.
He also encouraged this region to document the evolution of the nutritional status of children "not every 6 years, or every 7 years, or every 10 years"but annually, like the cost of living or the fluctuation of currencies.
"Documenting how (children) are fed, how they are growing, how they are developing, should be a priority and we lack data. We lack data that we have to have, because without data one navigates in the dark"he stressed.