OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Photo: Global Nutrition Report 2015

IN a world of paradoxes such as this, while hunger dominates on one side, its worst antithesis gains ground on the other. A worrying conclusion can be drawn from both calamities: humanity faces a serious nutritional situation.

According to the 2017 Global Nutrition Report, two billion people lack key micronutrients like iron and vitamin A; 52 million children are wasted (low weight-for-height usually the result of acute significant food shortage and/or disease); 88% of countries face a serious burden of either two or three forms of malnutrition (childhood stunting, anemia in women of reproductive age and/or overweight in adult women); and “the world is off track to meet all global nutrition targets.”

In case these figures are not clear enough, more simply put, one in three people in the world is malnourished.

Obesity kills as many people every year as hunger. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “at least 2.8 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.” Obesity, defined as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health” fundamentally caused by “an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended,” has thus reached epidemic proportions.

Laura Melo, representative of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Cuba – an organization celebrating 55 years of cooperation with the island – told Granma that, according to the 2017 Report, Cuba is among the nations with the highest coverage rates of interventions and practices to address maternal and child malnutrition. “It is known, however, that iron deficiency anemia, overweight, and obesity are concerns and priorities on the state’s agenda,” she noted.

“This topic has a lot to do with eating habits, therefore the importance of nutrition education, what types of elements we consume. It is not only about access to food, but about diversifying our diet,” she added.

Photo: Global Nutrition Report 2016

But what do people prefer to eat? A simple glance at the data dispels any doubts regarding the danger posed by ultra-processed foods as a driving force of the global obesity epidemic. Sufficient indicators can be found in Cuba. According to the results of the Third National Survey of Risk Factors, carried out in 2010, more than 40.4% of the Cuban population aged 15 and over does not engage in sufficient physical activity, while 43.8% are overweight or obese, with unhealthy eating habits among determinants.

SUGARS IN YOUR DIET: BAD COMPANY

High consumption of sugars is associated with various conditions such as overweight, obesity, liver disorders, behavioral disorders, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular disease, various types of cancer and tooth decay, among other diseases, warns the Boletín bibliográfico de la Biblioteca Médica Nacional (Bibliographic Bulletin of the National Medical Library), in issue 10, volume 24, October 2017.

According to WHO: “Consumption of free sugars, including products like sugary drinks, is a major factor in the global increase of people suffering from obesity and diabetes.”

In this sense, it is worth clarifying that the main sources of added sugars – which manufacturers add to food or beverages during their processing or preparation – include soft drinks, cakes, cookies, sugary fruit juices, dairy and chocolate desserts, among other products.

“WHO recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total calorie intake, while to obtain greater benefits it is ideally recommended to reduce consumption to less than 5% of total caloric intake, which would provide additional health benefits,” the Bulletin adds.

Likewise, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) urges countries to adopt measures such as restricting the marketing of ultra-processed foods and beverages to children, increasing the costs of these foods through taxes, increasing the production and access to healthy fresh foods, as well as the formulation of new guidelines for school and preschool food programs.

“Within the dietary habits and attitudes of Cubans is the excessive consumption of foods which contain refined sugars, often in combination with fats,” the Bulletin continues.

According to studies conducted in Cuba, among the most important risk factors for diabetes are a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. The 2010 Third National Survey of Risk Factors determined that the country’s prevalence of known diabetes was 6.1%, while according to the dispensarization of 2015, 5.7% of the population suffers from diabetes, which indicates continued underreporting of the disease and a group of people who are unaware they are diabetic.

Similarly, official health statistics indicate that more than 25% of the population over 14 years of age is known to have hypertension, while almost 50% of those aged over 50 may suffer from it.

Photo: Global Nutrition Report 2015

The common factor of all these diseases: diet. As such, the most effective way to deal with this growing epidemic is to work on prevention from the earliest ages, encourage healthy lifestyles and the practice of physical exercise, as well as implementing public policies that make these elements viable.

GLOBAL STATISTICS PUBLISHED IN THE 2017 GLOBAL NUTRITION REPORT

SODIUM INTAKE

Mean intake in 2010 of 4g/day

Recommended intake is 2g/day

CHILDHOOD STUNTING

Under 5 years in 2016

155 million

23%

CHILDHOOD OVERWEIGHT

Under 5 years in 2016

41 million

6%

CHILDHOOD WASTING

Under 5 years in 2016

52 million

8%

LOW BIRTH WEIGHT

Newborns in 2014

20 million

15%

ADULT HYPERTENSION

Raised blood pressure

Aged 18+ in 2015

TOTAL

1.126 billion adults

Men

597 million

Women

529 million

ADULT OBESITY

Body mass index of 30 or above

Aged 18+ in 2014

TOTAL

641 million adults

Men

266 million

Women

375 million

ADULT DIABETES

Raised blood glucose

Aged 18+ in 2014

TOTAL

422 million adults

Men

218 million

Women

204 million

ADULT OVERWEIGHT

Body mass index ­of 25 or above

Aged 18+ in 2014

TOTAL

1.929 billion adults

Men

947 million

Women

982 million

ANAEMIA

Women of reproductive age 15–49 years in 2016

TOTAL

613 million women

Non-pregnant women

578 million

Pregnant women

35.3 million

A measure of obesity is determined by body mass index (BMI), which is calculated by dividing an individual’s weight in kilograms by the square of his/her height in meters (BMI= weight [kg]/ height [m2]).

Example:

BMI = 76kg/1.80 m2 = 23.45

In the case of adults, WHO defines overweight and obesity as follows:

Overweight: BMI greater than or equal to 25

Obese: BMI greater than or equal to 30