A man on a bike stops to buy plantains from a vendor in San Salvador, El Salvador, Aug. 20, 2018.
A man on a bike stops to buy plantains from a vendor in San Salvador, El Salvador, Aug. 20, 2018.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - A study by the World Food Program and partner organizations finds malnutrition and obesity contribute significantly to El Salvador's poverty and inability to develop its struggling economy.

The study attributes the losses in productivity, health and education in El Salvador to, what it calls, the "double burden" of malnutrition and obesity.  It says these twin problems can occur in the same countries, communities and families.

Malnutrition takes many forms.  Stick-thin malnourished individuals suffer from undernutrition, leading to wasting and stunting.  Overweight and obese people lack important vitamins and minerals.  This makes them susceptible to diet-related noncommunicable diseases.

The World Food Program reports El Salvador has endured the cost of this double burden for more than a decade.  WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said this has resulted in losses of more than $2.5 billion from lost productivity and extra health and educational costs. 

"Currently, one in six children have chronic undernutrition and six out of 10 adults are overweight or obese, and that raises troubling consequences, which limit the development of the country.  The study shows that four out of 10 children with malnutrition do not finish primary school.  Eight of 10 do not finish high school," he said. 

Furthermore, Verhoosel said 1 million overweight or obese Salvadorans suffer from diabetes and hypertension.  He addd these conditions lead to spiraling health costs.  The study finds more than half a billion dollars was spent on treating diabetes and hypertension in 2017.

The study concludes that El Salvador could improve its socioeconomic condition by fighting the double burden of malnutrition.  It says promoting access to healthy food and to healthy lifestyles would keep poverty levels down, improve productivity and create a more sustainable future. 

Other studies will be released later on Guatemala, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic.  Verhoosel says similar results to those found in El Salvador can be expected.