Some of the largest disparities in the regions of the developing world are found in Latin America/Caribbean.
Children living in the poorest households are 3.6 times as likely to be underweight as children living in the richest households. Poor-rich ratios in Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua and Paraguay are even higher.
Latin America/Caribbean is on track to meet the MDG target, having reduced underweight prevalence by an average 3.8 per cent every year between 1990 and 2004, a faster rate than any other region. The region has the lowest under-five mortality rate in the developing world and the highest proportion of iodized salt consumption.
However, children in Latin America/Caribbean still face serious nutritional problems as a result of severe disparities and serious economic and social crises. Major long-term challenges are stunting and iron-deficiency anaemia.
Some countries have made impressive progress in reducing underweight prevalence. Cuba, for example, has reduced its underweight prevalence by more than half in just four years. Reductions were also seen in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Peru. Chile has the lowest underweight prevalence (just 1 per cent) and, like Jamaica and others, has achieved universal salt iodization.
The region’s two most populous countries have a disproportionate impact on regional success rates. Brazil has a relatively low prevalence of underweight children (6 per cent) and is thought to be on track to achieve the target. Mexico has achieved a reduction from 14 per cent to 8 per cent in about 10 years.
Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Trinidad and Tobago are making insufficient progress towards the target, although all four countries have reduced their levels of underweight prevalence.
Guatemala should reach the MDG target, despite having the highest proportion of underweight children (23 per cent) in the region and the highest rate of stunting (49 per cent) in the world.
A UNICEF rapid nutritional assessment in 2002 revealed that national averages tend to hide extreme disparities.30 For example, children in rural areas of Bolivia, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua are more than twice as likely to be underweight as children living in urban areas; in Peru, four times as likely.31
Regionally, underweight prevalence is 3.6 times more common among children living in poor households than among children living in rich households (based on data from nine countries) – compared with a global poor-rich ratio of underweight children of 2:1.32
30 Kamatsuchi, Mahoko, ‘Disparities in LAC: Rapid Nutritional Assessment’, UNICEF Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, Panama, 2000.
31 UNICEF analysis of underweight prevalence by place of residence, based on survey data.
32 UNICEF analysis of underweight prevalence by gender and household asset quintile, based on survey data.