The way we eat has changed in recent years. Hunger, undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity coexist in a complex scenario that reflects an inadequate way of eating. Eradicate hunger, achieve food security and nutrition improvement, and promote sustainable agriculture is a Millennium Development Goal (MDG) focused on reversing and ending these conditions.
For that matter, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued the Overview of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean. It presents a food system that seeks to reduce malnutrition by increasing food availability in terms of access, variety, sustainability and nutritional characteristics. These dimensions of food and nutrition security include food availability, access and use, as well as its stability. In this first part we will review the initial two components.
Food must be available in sufficient quantity and must have an adequate quality for consumers; they can be produced internally or be imported to the country. In Mexico, fruits and vegetables per capita (428g) are available in a limited amount in respect to the recommendation (at least 400g) and the world average (568g). On the other side, the amount of sugars available in the country (136g) is far above the world average (66g), and is greater than the regional (119g). The recommendation for sugar is exceeded, equivalent to 59g (10% of daily diet). There is also a greater availability of meat per person (168g) in contrast with the scarce availability of fish (32g).
Food availability is impacted by national production and retail price, as well as employment and public revenue. In order to improve adequate food availability an improvement of the farming production is presented, by extending land for food production, delivery of inputs (resources) based on production, sanitation enhancement, as well as monetary aid by funding, credits and subsidies.
On the other hand, food access is defined by the financial and physical capacities to acquire food that meet the population needs. Socioeconomic inequality and poverty negatively impact food security, as food higher in calories (e. g. ultra-processed products) has the lowest cost. The most vulnerable families allocate most of their income for food so not having enough resources decrease the quantity and quality of what they buy in order to reduce expenses. Price increase has a greater impact in this sector of the population, limiting even more access to a balanced diet.
High levels of poverty persist in Mexico. Extreme poverty had a decline from 2000 to 2011 (15.2% to 13.3%), with a rise in 2014 (16.3%), while poverty followed the same trend, from 41.1% in 2000 to 36.3% in 2011, achieving 41.2% in 2014. It is suggested to implement subsidies (e. g. to fruits and vegetables), transparency measures and intervention in food prices and minimum salary increase, as well as actions that improve school diet.
Latin America and the Caribbean have enough food for all the population, but it does not guarantee a proper diet. It is important to continue implementing programs focused on promoting healthy habits to reverse the overweight and obesity epidemic. The National Strategy for Overweight, Obesity and Diabetes Prevention and Control is implemented in Mexico, which includes public health, medical care, health regulation and fiscal policy interventions.
It is crucial to implement actions on improving food availability and access in every sector of the population, especially in the most vulnerable. In part 2 there will be a review of food use and stability of the food and nutrition security dimensions.
FAO/PAHO. Panorama de la seguridad alimentaria y nutricional en América Latina y el Caribe 2016. Available from: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6747s.pdf