Knowledge Note

The Latin America and Caribbean region has been experiencing a rapid demographic and epidemiological transition which has important health and economic consequences. Not only is the population aging rapidly, but it is also experiencing major changes in lifestyle. This has altered the disease and mortality profile, reflected in the increasing weight of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. These conditions also represent an increasing economic and development threat to households, health systems, and economies. Much of this health and economic burden can be avoided, since an important share of NCDs is due to exposure to preventable risk factors such as unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and alcohol abuse. Diets in most LAC countries are high in calories, sugars, fats and sodium, and low in fruits and vegetables. These diets, combined with sedentary lifestyles, are responsible for the large percentage of overweight and obese adults. Due to the disability-adjusted life years lost, attributed to overweight and obesity, the 2010 Burden of Disease Study ranked high body mass index as the first risk factor for health in southern LAC (Argentina, Chile and Uruguay), the second in the Caribbean and in Central LAC (Mesoamerica, Colombia and Venezuela), and the third in the rest of the region. The study also ranked tobacco use among the first five risk factors in LAC and alcohol abuse as the main risk factor in all sub-regions, with the exception of the Caribbean and southern LAC, where alcohol was ranked among the first five.

About the Presenters

María E. Bonilla-Chacín