Quito, Ecuador – The countries of the Americas have the highest obesity rate in the world, said Ecuador's representative to the Pan American Health Organization on Tuesday.
"Obesity, overweight affects at least one of every two adults and there are already some countries where it is three of every four," PAHO's Gina Tambini said in a meeting with reporters in Quito.
She said that this "epidemic" is affecting children and teenagers.
"One in every five children and teenagers is being affected and in some countries it is already one in every three. These are really alarming figures," Tambini said, adding that the worst thing is that those levels of obesity and overweight are linked with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart problems.
She said that the countries where the situation is the most critical include Mexico, Chile and the nations of the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, Michel Guinand, a public policy official with Unicef, said that concern about the problem "is high in Ecuador."
Data from the national meeting of Health and Nutrition 2011-2013 show that two of every three Ecuadorians between ages 19 and 59 are overweight or obese.
Changes in eating habits, especially increasing the consumption of processed products and junk food, along with low levels of physical activity, have resulted in the overweight problem among the public, according to Ecuador's Health Ministry.
The government is implementing various policies to maintain good health among the public and, in terms of nutrition it is currently demanding, among other measures, food labeling so that sugar, salt and fat levels, among others, can be more readily determined for each product by consumers.
Quito this week will host the international conference on food labeling and fiscal policies regarding healthy nutrition and the prevention of obesity.
Venezuela's socialist government is also sounding the alarm about growing waistlines in a country where record food shortages are making it harder to put healthy meals on the table, prompting many people to fill up on empty calories.
Authorities launched a public relations campaign Tuesday to halt a steady rise in obesity that threatens to lead to a costly, public health crisis if left unchecked.
Under the slogan "Get informed, eat healthy" President Nicolás Maduro's government hopes over the next five years to cut in half the nearly 40 percent rate of obesity among Venezuelans, a condition putting them at greater risk of heart disease and diabetes.
According to the World Health Organization, 67.5 percent of Venezuelans over age 20 are overweight, more than in any country in South America and nearly equal to the 69 percent rate in the United States.
EFE and The Associated Press contributed to this report.