3 in 10 children and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean have overweight

In the context of the pandemic, UNICEF calls for the prevention of childhood overweight.

13 September 2021
Erick, 18 months, eats mashed peach with vitamins while being held by his mother.
UNICEF/UN0373501/Billy/AFP-Services

PANAMA CITY, 13 September 2021 – In recent years, more and more children and adolescents are living with overweight in Latin America and the Caribbean. Currently, an estimated 3 in 10 children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 19 years have overweight in the region.

In 2020, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Bank estimated that in Latin America and the Caribbean, 7.5 per cent of children under 5 years of age, representing about 4 million children, were living with overweight. This is higher than the global average of 5.7 per cent.

The main causes of overweight and obesity in childhood are the consumption of ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks – which are easily accessible, low-cost and promoted in the mass media – and the lack of physical activity. During the pandemic, the problem has been magnified by limited access to healthy food and reduced purchasing power.

“During this year and a half of the pandemic, it has been much more difficult for families to eat healthily. Mothers and fathers lost income and food prices rose. With the closure of schools, many children stopped receiving school meals, and there were limited options for physical activity,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. "Before COVID-19, preventing obesity was essential, and now it is more urgent than ever."

On 15 September, UNICEF will bring together representatives of governments, civil society, academic institutions, international organizations and the private sector to make an urgent call for actions that promote healthy eating in childhood from the first years of life.

UNICEF has been promoting initiatives, in collaboration with governments from across the region, to improve the nutritional status of the population, guide families and communities, and contribute to regulatory actions to change food environments. To prevent overweight, UNICEF supports front-of-package nutritional labelling campaigns in several countries and promotes actions for the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding from birth to two years of age.

"The pandemic has taught us the importance of taking care of our health and that of our families. COVID-19 presents an opportunity to prevent overweight in early childhood and for life. Today it’s possible for every child in Latin America and the Caribbean to grow up with healthy food, but only if we join forces,” added Jean Gough.

UNICEF urges countries in the region to strengthen and implement regulatory frameworks to guarantee the quality of food at home and at school, reactivate school feeding programmes, ensure access to healthier food for families, and promote more spaces and initiatives for physical activity.

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If you would like more information, UNICEF will hold an online event on 15 September at 9 a.m. EST to highlight the current situation of childhood overweight in the region and share experiences and best practices from various countries to raise awareness about healthy eating. 

Media contacts

Laurent Duvillier
Regional Chief of Communication
UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: + 507 3017393
Tel: + 507 6169 9886
Alfonso Fernández Reca
Regional Communication Specialist
UNICEF Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: +507 69412277,

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