World Obesity Day – PAHO urges countries to tackle main driver of NCDs in the Americas

Frontal labelling of foods

Over 60% of adults in the Americas have overweight or obesity. PAHO recommends proven measures to tackle this growing problem.

Washington D.C. 3 March 2023 (PAHO) – Front-of-package warning labels, restrictions on the marketing of processed and ultra-processed products high in fats, sugars and salt, and taxes on unhealthy food and beverages are among the measures promoted by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to tackle the growing problem of obesity in the region of the Americas.

Obesity is one of the main risk factors for several noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and stroke, as well as several types of cancer. In 2021, obesity was responsible for 2.8 million deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Americas.

Rates of overweight and obesity have tripled in the Region over the past 50 years, and these conditions now affect 62.5% of the population, the highest regional prevalence in the world.

Levels of overweight and obesity among children is also on the rise, affecting 33.6% of children and adolescents aged 5-19 years in the Americas. This is primarily due to low levels of breastfeeding, and poor diets that are low in fruits and vegetables and high in ultra-processed food and drink products.

“Noncommunicable diseases are the biggest killer in the Americas, accounting for 80% of all deaths in the Americas, one-third of which are preventable,” Fabio da Silva Gomes, Regional Advisor on Nutrition and Physical Activity at PAHO said. “Halting the rise in obesity is essential to combat the growing burden of NCDs and improve the health and wellbeing of everyone in the Americas, including the next generation” he added.

To tackle the growing trend of obesity in the Americas, PAHO works with countries on the implementation of proven strategies to prevent and reduce the problem. These include:

  • Protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding, which reduces the risk of overweight and obesity by 13% in children;
  • Improving nutrition and promoting physical activity in pre-schools and schools;
  • Taxes on sugary drinks and the regulation of food marketing;
  • Intersectoral actions through health promotion, surveillance, research and evaluation.

PAHO is also working with countries of the Americas in the implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) Acceleration Plan to STOP obesity, discussed during the 75th World Health Assembly in 2022. The aim of the plan is to accelerate progress towards reducing obesity, with a focus on high-burden countries.

In December 2022, PAHO experts met with representatives from Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Trinidad and Tobago in Brasilia, to start the development of country roadmaps to implement the plan in the Americas.

World Obesity Day is celebrated every year on 4 March to raise awareness of the urgent need to address the global obesity epidemic. The theme of 2023 is Changing Perspectives: Let’s talk about obesity.