The prevalence of adult obesity in the Caribbean has quadrupled since 1975, with The Bahamas continuing to have one of the highest rates in the region, according to a new United Nations (UN) report, the Panorama of Food and Nutritional Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2019 from the United Nations.
“The fastest growth in obesity has occurred in the Caribbean,” reads one of the key messages from the report.
“The prevalence of obesity in adults quadrupled between 1975 and 2016, from six percent to 25 percent, with significant increases in the last 15 years. This means that adults with obesity in that subregion increased from 760,000 to 6.6 million in said period.”
It added, “The countries with the highest prevalence of overweight adults – with rates above 60 percent – would be: Argentina, The Bahamas, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela.
“Meanwhile, the countries with the lowest rates, which are in a range between 45 percent and 50 percent, are: Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago. In all cases, we are talking about very high levels of overweight prevalence if we consider that the global rate of overweight for adults is 39 percent.”
The report indicates that between the years 2000 and 2016, almost 30 percent of Bahamian adults on average were obese, the highest rate in the Caribbean. Dominica followed with a rate of just under 25 percent.
It also found that women in the region are more likely to be obese than men. In The Bahamas, nearly 40 percent of women are obese and just over 20 percent of men.
Additionally, the findings indicated that as a country’s income increases, obesity levels tend to increase and malnourishment rates fall.
“Higher levels of income tend to improve access to food, both in quantity and quality. However, the quality of the diet does not necessarily improve, especially when the availability of cheap and high-calorie foods is relatively high,” the report reads.
“That explains why as the average income grows, the problem of hunger decreases, while the problems of overweight and obesity increase.”
However, income is not the only significant factor in the increasing rates.
“In the region, there has been a rapid increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods and fast food, which are densely caloric, high in fat and sugar,” reads one of the key notes.
“Physical inactivity has increased. The rapid increase in income, growing urbanization, improvements in infrastructure, liberalization of market regulation policies and the increase of rural non-agricultural employment have transformed the region’s food system and changed food consumption patterns.
“Given these changes, prepared food and out-of-home meals have become attractive alternatives. There is also a disproportionate and unequal amount of cultivated areas destined for the production of basic inputs for processed and ultra-processed products (oils, flours, sugar) in contrast to the reduction of the areas dedicated to produce fruits, vegetables and legumes.”
The UN is calling on countries in the region to address the issue through policy changes.
“The public sector must develop public policies that protect and promote adequate food by expanding physical and economic access to nutritious foods, improving access and use of information and developing skills for citizens to exercise their right to healthy food,” it said in its key notes.
“In addition, food environments must be regulated and given greater oversight.”