Costa Rica is the fifth country in Latin America to have the highest rate of obesity in the population, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Obesity in Costa Rica has become a true epidemic, especially after the Covid 19 pandemic.

Definitions: difference between overweight and obesity

Overweight It is the elevation of the individual’s body weight above normal weight by 10-20%. With respect to body mass index (BMI).


It is a chronic disease It is characterized by a higher body fat content, which, depending on its magnitude, determines health risks that limit life expectations and quality of life. The current classification of obesity proposed by the WHO, based on BMI, considers that those persons whose BMI is equal to or greater than 30 kg/m2 suffer from obesity.

Obesity in Costa Rica

In less than 60 years, Costa Rica went from having a malnutrition rate of over 50% to an obesity rate of 34% , according to studies by the School of Nutrition of the University of Costa Rica in 2019. Obesity in Costa Rica is a true national epidemic. 

In fact, in 2018 already the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2018, placed Costa Rica in fifth place among Latin American countries with the highest percentage of obese adults, with almost one million inhabitants with obesity, and 3 out of every 10 children under 12 years of age.

Another survey conducted in the same year by the Ministry of Health of 8,297 students aged 13 to 17 years in public and private schools, in urban and rural areas, also revealed that, in comparison between genders, there were 5% more obese males (16.6%) than females (11.6%).

In 2020, the Collegiate Survey of Nutritional Surveillance and Physical Activity published by the Ministry of Health showed that 21.1% of Costa Rican adolescents were overweight and 9.8% obese, showing that more than 30% were over the recommended body mass index.

In 2021, close to 60% of the adult population in Costa Rica was overweight or obese to some degree, as well as 33% of school-age children.

According to OECD data from 2021, Costa Rica had approximately 24% of its population with some degree of obesity. Data from the Costa Rican Social Security Fund revealed that 68% of the adult population consulting at CCSS centers suffered from some level of overweight, costing approximately ₡5 million per person per year. 

Indeed, of 6,878 people treated with dyslipidemia disorders, 42% were overweight, 38% were already obese; of the 9,120 patients with hypertension, 44% were obese, 38.4% were overweight; of the diabetic patients treated, 35.8% were overweight. In other words, 13,000 people had a cost of ₡65 billion a year ($105 million) for the CCSS.


Poverty contributes to obesity in Costa Rica

According to studies, one of the causes of obesity is poverty. In fact, four of the districts with the lowest indexes of social development, are the ones that lead the highest prevalence of this scourge; which are Zapotal, Picares, Caldera and Desamparaditos, which do not go below 50%. There are also others such as El Porvenir, Desmonte, Varablanca and Mastate.

Other causes are bad eating habits, sedentary lifestyles and some myths that Costa Rican families still have: believing that a “chubby” child is a healthy child, that healthy food is expensive, or that obesity is only a weight-related issue are myths that need to be dispelled.

Fatphobia in Costa Rica

For some years now, Costa Rican activists have been rebelling against “fatphobia”. For example, there is the very well known case of Jessica Rodriguez, who presented herself at the casting for Miss Costa Rica despite the fact that she does not correspond to the beauty standards of this type of beauty pageant. Although she was not selected, she managed to bring this issue to public light. 

In 2019, Gabriela Quirós, a nutritionist at the National University conducted a study on this topic in which she concluded that 51% of women have felt sadness for not having the ideal body and 26% of men as well.

Author: M. Barrantes for Sensorial Sunsets