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News > Latin America

Panama Battles Childhood Obesity as Region Gains Weight

  • Boy eats a hamburger at a fast-food restaurant in Lima, Peru.

    Boy eats a hamburger at a fast-food restaurant in Lima, Peru. | Photo: Reuters via FAO-UN

Published 23 July 2019

The Panamanian government kicks of 'Save Your Life' campaign to lower childhood obesity index that the entire region suffers.

Experts in Panama say 30 percent of the population between five and nine years of age today are obese or overweight.


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The nation’s director of health advocacy within the ministry of health, Gabriela Garcia, is kicking off the Save Your Life campaign. The movement promotes the public consumption of fruits and vegetables, juices and grains. The health campaign targets teens under 18 and pushes the removal of junk foods, processed foods and sugars from the diet and incorporation of regular exercise. 

Noncommunicable diseases in children (NCD) and adulthood such as diabetes, hypertension and chronic respiratory diseases have become the biggest health threats in Latin America. According to the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (NCD-RisC), male obesity increased to over 18 percent by 2016, from just over four percent in 1985. Colombia, Cuba, Brazil and Nicaragua trend similarly. 

For the region, some 360 million people are considered overweight, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). That’s 58 percent of the Latin America and the Caribbean. 

“Obesity is growing uncontrollably. Every year we are adding 3.6 million obese people to this region. Two hundred fifty million people are overweight — 60 percent of the regional population. The situation is appalling,” FAO Regional Representative Julio Berdegue said last November.

According to the 2018 Food and Nutrition Security Survey, obesity affects 7.3 percent (3.9 million) of children under five, a figure that exceeds the world overweight average of 5.6 percent for minors. 

According to experts, inequality exacerbates obesity and malnutrition at the same time, with the latter impacting most lower income populations, women, Indigenous groups, Afro-descendants and rural families in Latin America and the Caribbean. Nineteen million women suffer from severe food insecurity, compared to 15 million men.  

In 2018, the U.N. reported that 39.3 million people in Latin America are going hungry, and that number has grown consecutively since 2014.

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