Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Chileans Have Poor Diets, Study Finds



For a country fiercely protective of its access to the ocean, Chile is not taking full advantage of its access to abundant seafood—which, it turns out, is one cause of poor nutrition among a majority of its population.

According to a new study by the Catholic University of Chile and Banmedical Foundation, 62 percent of Chileans are considered to have a “poor diet” and 29 percent an “unhealthy diet.” The study attributes the poor performance to the low proportion in Chileans’ diets of protein- and nutrient-rich foods—such as fish, beans, fruits, and vegetables—and the excessively high proportion of sugary foods. Sixty-three percent of Chileans eat more than the recommended amount of sweets, while only 5 percent and 10 percent eat fish and beans, respectively, more than twice a week.

Federico Leighton, director of the Center for Molecular Nutrition and Chronic Diseases at the Catholic University, said part of the reason for the lack of foods like beans and lentils in Chileans’ diet is that, “despite their nutritional value, [these foods] are mistakenly seen as ‘poor people’s foods.’” Leighton also noted that “bad eating habits go hand in hand with low levels of physical activity and smoking,” increasing the risk of chronic disease.

Other experts concur, finding that, as Chile and other Latin American countries transition to higher-income economies and “modernize,” people’s changing eating habits, exercise and lifestyles, are having serious implications for their health. Chronic noncommunicable diseases (NDCs), such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer, used to be seen as “diseases of the rich” but have now overtaken the traditional diseases of developing countries—infectious diseases, maternal mortality, malnutrition—as leading killers worldwide. According to Pan American Health Organization data from 2002, NCDs now account for two out of every three deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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