July 28, 2014
When we think about obesity we tend to believe this is a problem of developed countries such as the United States, where people carry a fast-food-restaurants-based diet, without actually imagine that this is also a problem in developing countries. In other words, we assume that it is unlikely that countries such as the Dominican Republic, where 35% of the population lives in poverty (about 3.3 million people) and 10.4% of the population (about 1 million) live in extreme poverty, can face obesity problems. But the reality speaks differently.
According to a study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the city of Atlanta, released in 2013, the Dominican Republic is one of the countries with the highest obesity risk in the Caribbean region, with about 30% of its population considered obese. The obesity level presented in Dominican Republic is significantly higher than the obesity levels observed on islands such as Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, which obesity rates do not exceed 20 percent. Moreover, the obesity level in the Dominican Republic is comparable to that of the United States, where almost 35% of the population is considered obese.
The problem of obesity in the Dominican Republic differs across population strata. For example, in the case of children, it is estimated that about 6.5% of children under 5 years old is overweight. For women, 45% of the female population of childbearing age is overweight, while 17% of the population suffers from obesity. It is good to note that the overweight and/or obesity rankings showed are based on body mass index (BMI), also known as the Quetelet index, which is a relative measure based on the body mass level and height of individuals.
Given these figures, the question of economic policy to the fore is: what can we do about it? Is obesity a problem that government authorities should be concerned and take action? How much control should establish the governments and/or public health authorities on what people choose to eat without restricting the right of each individual to take the diet he wants? What about the children? Should the government worry about feeding or is this merely a matter of the parents? All these questions have been widely discussed in the field of health economics and we will leave them for an upcoming article.