131 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean cannot access a healthy diet
A recently released United Nations FAO report says around 7 percent of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ population is undernourished.
With St. Vincent’s population averaging around 110,000, the 7 percent of undernourished people works out to about 7,700.
Titled “Regional Overview of 2022: Toward Improving Affordability of Healthy Diets,” the report concluded that due to the higher cost of a healthy diet, the percentage in Latin America and the Caribbean was 22.5 percent, or 131 million people, an increase of 8 million from 2019, who cannot afford to eat healthy.
The FAO said undernourishment in Latin America and the Caribbean now sits between 7.5 and 9.7 percent. Considering the middle point, in 2021, hunger affected 8.6 percent of the region’s population, the highest since 2006. Hunger in the region had been growing steadily even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Comparing the latest hunger data (2019–2021 period) with the three-year period before the COVID-19 pandemic, 2017–2019, shows that the countries in which undernourishment grew the most were Ecuador (3.8 percentage points), Honduras (2.2 percentage points), and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (2.1 percentage points). In Colombia, the prevalence of undernourishment increased by 2 percentage points (1.1 million more people).
In 2019–2021 (a three-year averaged estimate), half of Jamaica’s population (50.3 percent) was affected, and in Trinidad and Tobago, 43.3 percent. In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados, more than 30 percent of the population experienced moderate or severe food insecurity. Saint Kitts and Nevis and Grenada showed a prevalence higher than 20 percent.
Cost and affordability of a healthy diet
According to the report, more than half of the Caribbean population (52 percent) cannot afford a healthy diet, followed by Mesoamerica (27.8 percent) and South America (18.4 percent).
While the report did not provide a figure for St. Vincent, it did provide an overview of the countries in the sub-region with the worst case scenario.
Among the Caribbean countries, the vast majority of the population of Haiti (85.9 percent) cannot afford a healthy diet, and in Jamaica, more than two-thirds of the population (66.2 percent) cannot afford it. In the Dominican Republic and Saint Lucia, close to 20 percent of the population is unable to afford a healthy diet.
Suriname (58.8 percent) and Guyana (43 percent) are the two South American countries with the highest percentage of people who cannot afford a healthy diet.
The FAO said its prevalence of undernourishment indicator is derived from country data on food supply, food consumption and energy needs, taking into consideration demographic characteristics such as age, sex, and levels of physical activity.
Designed to capture a state of energy deprivation lasting over a year, this indicator does not reflect short-lived effects of temporary crises or inadequate intake of essential nutrients, the FAO said.
Ernesto is a senior journalist with the St. Vincent Times. Having worked in the media for 16 years, he focuses on local and international issues. He has written for the New York Times and reported for the BBC during the La Soufriere eruptions of 2021.