The Costa Rican Paradox: Malnutrition and Obesity in a Context of High Food Prices
Two apparently contradictory problems affect the food situation in Costa Rica: high food prices and high obesity rates.
Inflation and increased food prices.
While food and non-alcoholic beverage price inflation at the beginning of 2023 reached one of the highest rates among OECD countries, malnutrition and food insecurity persist.
Liquid milk, for example, increased 18.76% between these six months, beef steak 20.48%, fish fillet 23.13%, wheat flour 38.96% and tortillas 19.69%, according to data on the inter-annual variation of the Consumer Price Index provided to UNIVERSIDAD by the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC). The general item of food and non-alcoholic beverages increased 15.95%.Semanario Universidad
The same can be said for eggs and chicken. The National Chamber of Poultry Farmers (Canavi) also reported that the sector is affected by increases in the cost of raw materials such as corn and soybeans. Due to the continuous increases in gasoline and diesel, these costs are already reflected in price increases for the final consumer.
This price escalation has been a worrying problem. The country experienced inflation of 18.5%, which directly affects the population’s ability to obtainnutritious and sufficient food.
Dr. Karol Madriz Morales, member of the Intersectoral Commission of Dietary Guidelines of the Ministry of Health, points out that:
When we tell people to buy fruits and vegetables, but the price structure in our country does not allow it because we are one of the countries with the highest food costs -which are the pillar of the food system- it is clear that nutritional food security will be affected at the national level, especially for the most vulnerable populations.
Besides, geographic access also plays an important role. Rural communities and communities far from urban centers often face greater difficulties in accessing fresh and nutritious meals due to the lack of transportation infrastructure and the limited presence of food outlets. As a result, inadequate diet affects many children and adolescents, generating two extreme situations: obesity and overweight or malnutrition in children from indigenous and highly vulnerable communities.
Why is it possible that a country with high food costs also has the highest obesity rates?
The apparent paradox that a country with high food costs has high obesity rates can be explained by several interrelated factors.
The high incidence of obesity in Costa Rica is a highly complex phenomenon. While processed and ultra-processed foods, which are often cheaper, are widely available, this does not mean that they are a healthy choice. Lack of nutrition education and the influence of unhealthy food advertising also play an important role in food choices and obesity.
According to Dr. Maria Rodriguez, nutrition expert, mentions that:
High food prices limit people’s access to nutritious and balanced choices. This can lead to malnutrition, both in the form of nutritional deficiencies and overconsumption of low-quality foods.
She also points out that the most affordable foods are often high in fats, sugars and salt, which contributes to obesity and other associated diseases.
The relation between high food costs and high obesity rates is explained by the availability and accessibility of unhealthy foods, the influence of advertising and marketing, socioeconomic and educational factors, changes in consumption patterns, and cultural and social factors.
Dealing with this problem requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both economic and nutritional aspects, in addition to promoting policies that encourage healthy and accessible food for all Costa Ricans.