Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in Latin America … – ReliefWeb

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Hunger and food insecurity are rising in Latin America and the Caribbean
The world is moving in the wrong direction in the mission to end hunger by 2030.
Consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine continue to impede progress towards achieving SDG 2 by 2030. Latin America and the Caribbean is no exception: hunger, food insecurity, child overweight and adult obesity are all getting worse. The only recent progress made at regional level towards the 2030 nutrition targets has been for exclusive breastfeeding for infants under six months of age, and in child stunting.
The 2022 socioeconomic outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean was not encouraging. Unfortunately, the increase in the poverty rate in the context of the pandemic, the high level of income inequality, the increase in international food prices and in the food consumer price index (CPI) have worsened the food security situation.
These factors, often occurring in combination, have contributed to the increase in the prevalence of food insecurity and in the cost of a healthy diet.
In the region, the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity, of overweight in children under 5 years of age and of adult obesity are higher than the global averages.
Additionally, the region has the costliest healthy diet compared to other regions of the world. Diet quality is a critical link between food security and nutrition because poor diet quality can lead to different forms of malnutrition, including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity. To achieve SDG 2, everyone must have access to a healthy diet. Updated estimates indicate, however, that a healthy diet is unaffordable for 131 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean. Indicators on the cost and affordability of a healthy diet show the population’s economic access to the least-cost healthy diet available in each country that allows them to meet nutritional requirements set by food-based dietary guidelines for an active and healthy life.
A healthy diet consists of adequate calories as well as essential nutrients and diverse foods from several different food groups needed for an active and healthy life. According to WHO and FAO, healthy diets consist on a wide variety of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and are balanced among all food groups, including a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. In terms of nutrients, a diet is considered healthy when total fat intake does not exceed 30 percent of calories consumed, saturated fat intake does not exceed 10 percent and sodium intake is less than two grams per day (equivalent to 5 grams of salt). Likewise, for a diet to be healthy, it is suggested to reduce the intake of highly processed foods and beverages, trans fats and added sugars, while preferring the consumption of unsaturated fats and dietary fibre.
A healthy diet protects against malnutrition in all its forms as well as non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. It ensures a person’s needs for macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates including dietary fibre) and essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) specific to their gender, age, physical activity level and physiological state are met in accordance with their cultural context, dietary customs and locally available foods.
The rise in international food prices and the effects of food inflation, however, have increased the costs and the unaffordability of a healthy diet. To meet the targets of SDG 2 by 2030, agrifood systems in the region must be transformed in ways that ensure lower cost of nutritious foods to make healthy diets more affordable for all. Although the fiscal situation of many countries in the region poses significant challenges for governments, tackling the cost and affordability of healthy diets through policies is imperative. This report outlines evidence-based policy solutions to accomplish this goal.
Rising food prices and the socioeconomic situation affect affordability of healthy diets
Latin America and the Caribbean faces a complex scenario of high and rising food inflation, increasing poverty in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, high levels of income inequality and increasing levels of hunger, food insecurity and obesity.
Food inflation in the region has been on the rise since 2019, and was subsequently worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and then by the effects of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. High inflation rates reduce the purchasing power of households, putting their food security at risk and limiting their access to nutritious foods, especially in lower-income quintiles, who use a considerable portion of their budget to purchase foods.
Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the highest average level of income inequality in the world. In highly unequal countries, economic slowdowns and downturns disproportionately affect the food security and nutrition of low-income groups. The region has faced several years of economic stagnation and contraction since 2015. Poverty already affected 186 million people in the region by 2019. In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world, the gross domestic product (GDP) in the region decreased by 6.8 percent, and 17 million more people fell into poverty.
This region has the highest cost of a healthy diet compared to other world’s regions, and the current context is making it even harder for people to afford a healthy diet.
Also, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is putting pressure on food prices and fertilizer costs, as it affects production, trade, logistics, and energy markets around the world.
While the region in general is going through this deteriorating situation subregions and countries have different realities. Their cost and affordability of healthy diets differ widely by subregion and country. These differences are related to poverty, income levels and inequality, as well as to production, exports and import dependency on specific food groups. To find solutions that are tailored to specific contexts, it is necessary to fully examine and understand these differences and their various causes.
Given the current trends, urgent actions are needed to improve the affordability of healthy diets, especially for the most vulnerable population.
Food and agricultural policies can contribute to making healthy diets affordable for all in the region
Transforming agrifood systems is essential to reducing the cost and improving the affordability of healthy diets. Food and agricultural policies formulated towards this objective are required to make healthy diets affordable for all.
Producer-oriented policies formulated to increase the diversity of food production could be an effective way of increase the supply and reduce the cost of nutritious foods. The transparency to trade and markets can also be crucial to reducing consumer food prices and making healthy diets more affordable. Social protection programmes within consumer-oriented policies are critical components of poverty reduction strategies that can help make healthy diets affordable and, in turn, contribute to improved food security and nutrition. The delivery of in-kind food transfers, such as school feeding programmes, food vouchers and cash transfers designed with nutrition-sensitive considerations, can improve the affordability of healthy diets for the most vulnerable population.
Many countries in the region have the capacity to ensure the implementation of producer-oriented, market and trade and consumer-oriented policies to reduce the cost and improve the affordability of healthy diets. So far, few food and agricultural policies have been designed to improve the affordability of healthy diets. As a result, foods of high energy density and minimal nutritional value are available at very low cost.
By sharing evidence about policies implemented in Latin America and the Caribbean to make healthy diets more affordable, and documenting the experiences implementing these policies, this report provides evidence that can encourage the exchange of experiences, cooperation and integration among countries of the region.
This year’s report presents an overview of the current food security and nutrition situation in Latin America and the Caribbean, including updated estimates on the cost and affordability of a healthy diet (Part 1). The publication then looks at the challenging social and economic scenario of the region that is driving up the cost of healthy diets, followed by an examination of the cost and affordability of healthy diets at subregional and country levels, including the associations between the unaffordability of a healthy diet and socioeconomic and nutritional indicators (Part 2). Finally, this Regional Overview presents an analysis of some food and agricultural policies that are being implemented in the region, and the ways in which these policies contribute to reducing the cost and increasing the affordability of healthy diets.
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