From: María Elena Hurtado, translated by Javier Torres, ENN, SciDevNet, More from this Affiliate
Published January 13, 2010 02:13 PM

Processed foods contribute to obesity in Guatemala

The increase in consumption of processed foods contributes significantly to the high rate of obesity and overweight in Guatemala, the ninth poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to study published in the Journal Health Economics (December edition 2009).

Obesity and overweight, some of the major risk factors for death from non-contagious diseases, is increasing in developing countries due to dietary changes. In the past, it was preferable to consume staple foods and whole grains, now the trend is to eat highly processed foods, high in salt, sugar and saturated fat, and with few fibers and other essential nutrients.


Processed foods contribute to weight gain because the sugar and other sweeteners can stimulate the appetite by altering the hormonal balance. In addition, the refined carbohydrates they contain are easily and quickly absorbed by the body.

A study conducted by Abay Asfaw of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Washington DC, USA, examined the relationship between consumption of processed foods from 21,803 Guatemalans over ten years and the Body Mass Index (BMI), which compares the weight and height. A BMI between 25kg/m2 and 30kg/m2 indicates overweight and obesity. In Guatemala, the average BMI is 22.29. Over 23 percent of people are overweight and 6 percent are obese.

The study concluded that, other factors being equal, when the food expenditure as a proportion of the total spent increased by ten percent, the BMI of family members up to 3.95 percent to 4.25 percent in the case.

The data were obtained through a household survey from the National Institute of Statistics conducted between 1999 and 2000 in 38 municipalities of Guatemala. The researchers inquired about food consumption, shopping and other factors, such as demographic information, age, sex, height, weight, condition health and education.

As caloric intake also affects the weight, it was found the occupation of individuals and the number of hours spent on physical activity and whether they were urban or rural residents. Women and urban residents were more likely to be overweight than men and those living in rural areas.

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