The challenge of improving food and nutrition in Latin America

Food Nutr Bull. 2004 Jun;25(2):175-82. doi: 10.1177/156482650402500211.


The Latin American Region has exhibited a marked increase in the consumption of high-energy-density foods (high in fats and sugars) and a decrease in physical activity, with rising trends of sedentary life among the urban population. Social and economic progress led to a decline in infectious diseases, while higher income fostered the consumption of meats, fats and oils, and sugar and reduced the consumption of grains and legumes. The result has been a gradual increase in life expectancy at birth and a greater burden of disease linked to obesity and other nutrition-related chronic diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and osteoporosis). The region is currently facing the challenge of a double disease burden--the unresolved problem of malnutrition caused by nutritional deficits on the one hand, and the steady increase in chronic disease on the other. The need to develop policies and programs that make the healthy choice the easy choice in terms of diet and physical activity is presented. These should encompass not only individual choices, but also environmental factors that condition food and physical activity behavior. Food supply, and hence consumption, is largely driven by the productivity of the food-production chain; demand and consumption are determined by the way food is produced, processed, distributed, marketed, and advertised. These factors are beyond the consumer's control, and they operate to maximize profit, not health. Public health policies should focus not only on the demand side, but also on the supply of more healthful food products. Examples of potential interventions to increase the demand for healthful foods and the supply of healthier choices are presented and discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet / standards*
  • Humans
  • Latin America
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Preventive Medicine / methods