Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 31st 2014 Contents C18
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt August 31, 2014
BOGOTA---Venezuela s socialist government is
sounding the alarm about growing waistlines
in a country where record food shortages are
making it harder to put healthy meals on the
table, prompting many people to fill up on empty
Authorities launched a public relations cam-
paign last week to halt a steady rise in obesity
that threatens to lead to a costly, public health
crisis if left unchecked.
Under the slogan Get Informed, Eat Healthy
President Nicolas Maduro s government hopes
over the next five years to cut in half the nearly
40 per cent rate of obesity among Venezuelans,
a condition putting them at greater risk of heart
disease and diabetes.
According to the World Health Organization,
67.5 per cent of Venezuelans over age 20 are over-
weight, more than in any country in South Amer-
ica and nearly equal to the 69 per cent rate in
the United States.
The battle against the bulge comes as most
Venezuelans complain they can t find enough to
Rigid price controls and a shortage of US dollars
make it difficult for even the country s largest
food company, Empresas Polar SA, to import
needed supplies and turn a profit. As a result,
everything from corn flour to milk is in short
supply in the oil-rich nation. When staples do
suddenly appear in supermarkets, hours-long
lines generally follow.
To combat the shortages, the government
recently unveiled plans to install fingerprint scan-
ners at grocery stores nationwide. Opponents
blasted the plan as a form of Cuban-styled
rationing, though the government says the extra
controls are needed to stop hoarding and smug-
"The fingerprint scan is going to restore freedom
because it will help us find and capture the smug-
glers," Maduro said in a speech in which he held
out his family s grocery list when he was a child---
two cartons of milk, three packages of corn flour---
as an example of rational consumption for
Venezuelan households to follow.
To safeguard domestic food supplies, the gov-
ernment also announced it was banning the export
of 21 food items, including sugar, tuna and rice.
Far from limiting calorie intake, scarcity is one
of the main culprits behind the country s growing
girth, nutritionists say.
With balanced meals harder to come by and
60 per cent inflation burning a hole through
Venezuelans pockets, many eat an excess of fried
foods and goods made with flour to fill up. It s
not just traditional temptations like pork rinds
or corn-patty arepas stuffed with greasy cheese;
despite the government s frequent criticism of
the United States "empire," McDonald s fast food
is as popular as ever.
"People are eating but they re not getting nour-
ished," says Nixa Martinez, president of the
National Association of Nutritionists and Dieti-
tians. "You eat what you can find and what you
find isn t healthy."
The government argues that nation s nutrition
has improved over the past 15 years as poverty
has fallen and price controls have allowed more
Venezuelans to afford three meals a day. Last
year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization heaped praise on Venezuela for
reducing by half the number of people suffering
from hunger and malnutrition.
But most of the data on Venezuelans waistline
is based on a National Institute of Nutrition study
from 2008, Martinez said.
"Since then, Venezuelans eating habits have
changed dramatically," she said.
If the current health kick is to succeed, it might
Venezuela battles obesity
amid dearth of good food
want to start at the top.
Maduro frequently urges Venezuelans to get
plenty of exercise, pointing out that a love of fast
food is one of the few things government sup-
porters and opponents have in common in this
deeply polarised nation. But he s not known to
practice what he preaches.
His mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo
Chavez, used to publicly poke fun at the former
bus driver s thick torso, saying it was the result
of too many submarine sandwiches. (AP)
in front of a
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