Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Obesity has become the worst nutritional threat in Latin America, which is adding overweight people at a rate of 3.6 million annually, as the poorer often go for cheaper high-fat, sugar loaded foods, a United Nations report determined.
"Obesity is growing uncontrollably. The situation is appalling," the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's regional representative Julio Berdegue said in a report released Wednesday. Well over 250 million Latin Americans are now overweight.
About 3.9 million, or 7.3 percent of, Latin American and Caribbean children are affected by obesity, topping the global average of 5.6 percent, the report said.
The report, called the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security 2018, indicates the new threat is a result of changes in the region's food systems, or cycles of food from production to consumption.
"These changes have affected the entire population, but the most excluded members of society have suffered the worst effects," it said.
Undernourishment also continues to be a problem, as well as access to water, schools, sanitation services and healthcare, added Carissa Etienne, a World Health Organization representative. "We must advance access to universal healthcare," she said.
Hunger affects over 39 million Latin Americans, or just over 6 percent of the population. Between 2016 and 2017 the total increased by 400,000 people, twice as many as it did in the previous year.
Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela saw increases in the number of undernourished people and the largest increase was found in Venezuela.
In Venezuela, 3.7 million, or nearly 12 percent of the population, suffer from undernourishment. In Haiti, 5 million, or nearly 46 percent of the population suffer from undernourishment, with 4.8 million in Mexico in a similar situation, or 3.8 percent of the population. However, the situation in Mexico and Haiti has improved, according to the most recent figures.
One of the effects is the stunting of children's growth. In Honduras, stunting affects 42 percent of children in lower income families while a 2014-2015 study in Guatemala showed stunting affected 61 percent of indigenous children. Indigenous groups are one of the most vulnerable populations.
"Stunting is closely correlated with inequality and poverty, but overweight is also increasingly affecting the poorest children," said Maria Cristina Perceval, regional director for UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean.