Preventing childhood obesity in Latin America: linking evidence to policy and practice

Introduction-childhood obesity prevention in Latin America

Benjamin Caballero

Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Estados Unidos de América

Latin America exhibits the key characteristics of a region in advanced stages of the nutrition transition: highly urbanized, high penetration of retail food marketing and of consumption of processed ‘fast’ foods, and a predominantly sedentary lifestyle. The elevated rates of overweight and obesity found in the region are a consequence of those factors, as is the increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases associated with obesity: diabetes, dyslipidemias, and cardiovascular diseases. Of particular concer is the alarming rate of obesity among children and adolescents. The coexistence of undernutrition and obesity poses a particular challenge to mount effective public health prevention policies. The Center for Global Health at the NIH Fogarly International Center sponsored a workshop with the aims of a) providing an up to date assessment of the problem in the Latin American region; b) Presenting and discussing existing initiatives to combat childhood obesity in the context of middle-income countries; c) Identifying effective approaches to implement childhood obesity prevention programs, and d) fostering collaboration and promoting capacity building for both research and practice in the area of childhood obesity prevention. Over the past decade, the region began to respond to the problem of childhood obesity, targeting different components of the obesity causal path, based on scientific evidence, and involving multiple sectors. These programs and interventions are highly relevant to programs being debated in many countries around the world, including developed countries. Furthermore, they almost invariably involve a strong action from government and civil society, providing critical lessons for multi-sectorial interventions. These initiatives include a wide array of social, financial, and educational interventions, for example taxation of caloric beverages, regulation of front-of-package labeling, restrictions on advertisement and marketing of unhealthy foods, promoting access to health food by price subsidies and agricultural policies, etc. Capacity building is another essential element, to generate scientific evidence and to move it into sustainable programs. Training, open information exchange, and optimizing use of regional resources and collaboration are critical for long-term success. These topics are summarized in the presentations of this symposium.