Families residing in Latin America are currently experiencing a problem with nutrition, specifically with children being drastically underweight or overweight. This issue stems from inadequate health education, lack of access to healthy foods, and in some poorer communities, no access to any food at all. Reports in 2018 determined that 20% of children under the age of 5 were not growing at a normal pace due to some form of malnourishment. As a result, these children faced stunted growth and/or obesity. Organizations are tackling this issue by addressing poverty as the root cause of malnutrition in Latin American children.
How Poverty Leads to Malnutrition
In 2017, 184 million Latin Americans were living in poverty while 62 million were experiencing extreme poverty, creating an increased risk for child malnourishment. Low-income households often cannot purchase food, afford healthy foods or are food insecure, which perpetuates unhealthy development. This means children in poor homes are unable to consume the required number of food groups to support their growth. The poorest Latin American countries have it the worst. In 2019, one in two Guatemalan children under the age of 5 had stunted growth.
Children in marginalized households also face obesity. Obesity can lead to long-term health risks such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular ailments and mental health complications in adulthood. In 2017, 20% of children under the age of 20 were either obese or overweight in Latin America. A major reason for the continent’s growing obesity rate is the marketing of inappropriate diets. The U.N. highlighted a common marketing trend in Latin American countries: the cheaper choice receives heavy promotion, therefore outselling the healthier choice. This creates a higher demand for processed foods. Processed foods are more readily available in grocery stores than nutritious foods, perpetuating unhealthy habits among children in poverty.
Who is Helping?
There are many organizations that are working to end malnutrition in Latin American children. The nonprofit Save the Children currently has multiple programs in action that specifically target child malnourishment in Latin America by uplifting inclusive markets and strengthening household incomes. So far this nonprofit has provided over 350,000 Haitian children with vital nourishment. Kids Alive International also reaches out to vulnerable children by providing nutritious meals in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti and Peru.
UNICEF calculated in 2019 that malnutrition affected 5.1 million children under the age of 5, with children from the poorest households being four times more likely to experience malnourishment. UNICEF is working toward making the Sustainable Development Goals a reality for Latin American children. It hopes to end poverty and the effects of malnutrition by 2030.
Malnutrition in Latin American children continues to be a health crisis with poverty being a primary source. Every child should have the right to healthy food and a healthy lifestyle. International aid helps make those rights a reality.
– Radley Tan