By Daniela Philipp. 

In our last post, we talked about the alarming levels of chronic malnutrition in Guatemala, where 49 percent of children under age five are malnourished. Your comments reaffirm our concerns. Poor nutrition deserves more attention because it is still a hidden problem, as one of our readers said.

In our region, poor nutrition has led to two problems: chronic malnutrition (described in the previous blog post) and obesity, which is on the rise in Latin American countries.

The numbers on obesity are surprising:

-With a prevalence of 11.8%, Peru has the highest obesity rate in the region!
-In Bolivia, where 35% of children under age five are malnourished, a full 9.2% of children in the same age group are obese. Bolivia ranks fourth in obesity!
-Mexico also has high child obesity rates; 7.6% of children up to age five are obese.

Seeing these figures makes me wonder, how are we feeding our children who are malnourished or obese? The causes of chronic malnutrition and obesity are certainly diverse and complex, but they also have some things in common: in both cases, children are eating low-quality food and parents do not understand the importance of good nutrition or how to prepare nutritious meals for their families while staying within their budgets.

In the city of El Alto, Bolivia, where 30 percent of children are chronically malnourished, it was found that a lack of knowledge about good complementary feeding practices and balanced nutrition were among the causes of chronic malnutrition. In response, the IDB has launched a project with a strong emphasis on education. For example, it offers workshops to teach mothers how to prepare nutritious meals using local ingredients. It has been shown that child beneficiaries of this initiative now more frequently consume better quality, more balanced meals, demonstrating the project’s success.

Another interesting initiative was launched just last weekend. The famous English chef Jamie Oliver proposed an educational program that seeks to combat poor nutrition and obesity (17% of children and young people are obese in the US!). It is called Food Revolution Day. Jamie Oliver wants to use this day to urge people to consume fresh foods from local producers, as well as to improve education about food and proper nutrition.

These are two powerful initiatives, but we need many more to truly raise awareness about how important it is to feed our children well every day, and to encourage people to start preparing better meals today.

Daniela Philipp is a consultant in the Social Protection and Health Division of the IDB. Daniela’s work focuses on health, nutrition, and early childhood development.

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