Central American countries are facing an obesity crisis because of the influx of North American junk food, say researchers.
Writing in BioMed Central’s open access journal Globalization and Health, researchers said the increase in free trade agreements between Central and North American countries had led to a rise in the import and availability of processed, high-fat and high-sugar foods.
They linked the junk food imports to the growing levels of obesity in countries like Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
Since the early 1990s, imports of items such as processed cheese, cookies and pastries, popcorn and chips have increased significantly.
Average tariffs in Central America declined from 45 per cent in 1985 to around 6 per cent in 2000.
At the same time food imports more than doubled in the 1990s. Processed cheese imports into Central America rose by 3,215 per cent between 1990/92 and 2003/05. French fries now account for 23 per cent of all imports of fruits and vegetables.
'In Central America, liberalisation appears to have directly influenced the availability and price of meat and processed foods, many of which are energy-dense and high in fats, sugars and salt', said report co-author Anne Marie Thow, of the University of Sydney.
'While there are arguments for and against trade liberalisation, it is essential to consider its effects on the poor. Factors affecting income and distribution are important in determining diet and health, and these factors are likely to be more significant for the poor in the process of uneven dietary development,' said Thow.