Now recognized as a worldwide epidemic, obesity is responsible for negative effects not just health-wise but also from a cultural and social standpoint—and Latin America is no exception. Obesity is the fastest rising non-communicable disease (NCD) in the world, and now afflicts over 56% of adults in Latin America—well above the global average of 34%.
The Scope of the Problem
In 2013 Mexico earned the dubious distinction of surpassing the United States as the world’s most obese country. As of 2015, over 70% of Mexico’s overall population and 57% of children were considered overweight. But Mexico is far from the lone Latin American country that’s leading this category: Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Brazil also have significant obesity rates:
Source: GHI Analysis based on WHO Infobase, OECD Health 2014, and foreignpolicy.com
Causes and Effects of Obesity in Latin America
Eating habits, globalization, stress, and sedentary lifestyles are the root causes for the prevalence of obesity in Latin America. Drastic dietary changes are the most obvious sign of the epidemic across the region. Following in the footsteps of North American eating habits, sales of ultra-processed foods in Latin America grew by 48% between 2000 and 2013. Sedentary lifestyles are due to the growing work constraints and busy schedules associated with urbanization, as well as the lack of space for physical activity. The double burden of malnutrition creates the unique situation where nutritional deficiency exists alongside obesity. Food insecurities and low incomes propel this double burden, such as in Mexico and Argentina.
The same high-fat and sodium diets that lead to higher body mass indices also cause plaque buildup, hypertension, inefficient insulin uptake, and musculoskeletal conditions. This in turn places a huge strain on Latin America’s healthcare systems, most notably in the form of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
What This Could Mean for Demand
With an issue like obesity, products that can monitor, record and display health statistics—such as blood pressure, glucose levels, calories, and weight—can influence behavior and reverse the effect of harmful non communicable diseases before complications arise. These products can also promote prevention through awareness by demonstrating the gradual consequences of harmful diets, which otherwise can go unnoticed.
With healthcare mobility solutions expected to grow by 25-30% annually through 2020, suppliers stand to benefit from introducing products such as wearables and smartphone applications, among others. The demand for these medical devices and other products in this niche are part of a much larger trend toward patient-centric healthcare.
By empowering individuals to hold themselves accountable for managing their personal health, there is potential for much greater knowledge dissemination (e.g., nutrition education) as well as effective incentives for behavior change (e.g., weight loss). Products that enable individuals to micromanage their own health indicators (e.g., achieving a target heart rate) make it easier to detect progress — and relapses. The greater prize of these mobile solutions is the patient adherence and the vast amounts of data resulting from constant communication between healthcare providers and patients.
Effective health management across large populations is not far off. There are opportunities for both public and private institutions to collaborate in this space, whether via awareness campaigns, wearable devices, integration of electronic medical records (EMR) or other solutions. Addressing the overweight and obese populations of Latin America goes hand in hand with efforts to prevent chronic diseases. For instance, having a family reorganize their budget for food purchases and make the time for physical activity is less costly than the medication required for treating a chronic disease or the emergency care that sometimes results from it. This sort of preventative care against obesity could ease the burden on Latin America’s healthcare systems.
Contact Americas Market Intelligence to learn more about the opportunities for companies in the Latin American healthcare system, to garner competitive intelligence or to access our database of more than 12,000 hospitals across Latin America.