Menu ENN Search

Regional Perspective: Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)

Yvette Fautsch Macías is a Nutrition Specialist at the UNICEF Regional Office for the LAC Regional Office (LACRO)

Paula Veliz is a Regional Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF LACRO

Maaike Arts is a Regional Adviser at Survive and Thrive (Health and Nutrition), UNICEF LACRO

UNICEF LACRO would like to acknowledge the co-authors of the peer-reviewed article1 which, along with other resources, informed this Field Exchange article: Franziska Gassmann, Richard de Groot, Stephan Dietrich, Eszter Timar, Florencia Jaccoud, Lorena Giuberti and Giulio Bordon (UNU-MERIT, Maastricht University, Maastricht, Netherlands). The team contributed to the conceptualisation, data curation and formal analysis, as well as the writing, reviewing and editing of the original draft. Aashima Garg (UNICEF Headquarters, Programme Group – Nutrition) contributed to the conceptualisation, supervision, writing, reviewing and editing of the manuscript. UNICEF LACRO would also like to thank UNICEF country offices in Guatemala, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay for their contributions.

In the LAC region, the prevalence of wasting in children under the age of five is low (1.3%), and that of stunting reduced from 18% to 11.3% between 2000 to 2020. Despite this, 5.8 million children in the region are still affected by stunting (UNICEF, WHO, & World Bank, 2021). Regional prevalences hide national and sub-national discrepancies. The prevalence of childhood stunting is 47% in Guatemala – one of the highest levels globally – and is above 20% in Ecuador, Haiti and Honduras (UNICEF LACRO, 2020). At the same time, the prevalence of overweight in children under the age of five increased from 6.8% to 7.5% 2000–2020, resulting in 3.9 million children affected, ranging from 3.7% in Haiti to 12.9% in Argentina. Of all countries analysed in the LAC region, only Guyana, Haiti and Uruguay still have a higher prevalence of childhood wasting than overweight. One of the key determinants of this simultaneous burden of undernutrition and overnutrition are the gaps in early IYCF practices throughout the region.

To explore child feeding practices in the region, UNICEF LACRO conducted a landscape analysis according to the following three thematic areas of UNICEF’s Action Framework for improving diets of young children: (1) the ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ of feeding; (2) drivers of children’s diets, especially nutrition services and practices; and (3) strategic actions in place across WASH, health and social protection systems. A total of 59 documents and two datasets from countries across the region were included in the analysis, although there was substantial variation in the availability and timeliness of data between different countries.

Findings from the landscape analysis

On average, 84% of infants in the LAC region were introduced to complementary foods at an appropriate time. This is favourable when compared to other regions, but there were substantial variations within the region. Only 38% of infants under six months were exclusively breastfed, ranging from alarmingly low rates in some countries (3% in Suriname, 4% in Saint Lucia and 5% in Dominica) to rates that were at or above the global average in others (66% in Peru, 58% in Bolivia and 53% in Guatemala). Peru, El Salvador and Cuba had the highest percentage of boys and girls aged 6–23 months who consumed a minimum of five of the eight food groups (83%, 73% and 70% respectively), while the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Haiti had the lowest percentage (51%, 40% and 19% respectively). These findings reinforce the unequal progress towards healthy diets for children between sub-regions and countries.

Most infants and young children in the region were fed at an appropriate frequency, but their diets lacked diversity, with children aged 6–11 months receiving less diverse diets than those aged 12–23 months. Poor dietary diversity has been attributed to the availability of ultra-processed foods and the comparatively prohibitive cost of nutrient-dense foods.2 Indigenous communities were particularly vulnerable, typically having poorer dietary quality and more limited household food access.

Awareness surrounding effective IYCF practices and caregiver knowledge was generally poor in the region, except for Paraguay and Panama, which have developed and implemented food-based dietary guidelines for children under the age of two.

Data gaps also remained a significant challenge. For example, most countries do not have the capacity to measure the prevalence of MDD, making it difficult to monitor progress.

Large-scale policies and programmes on food fortification are popular in the region and contribute to tackling micronutrient deficiencies. However, access to safe water and sanitation is not universal and there are substantial rural-urban divides, similar to other regions.

Priority actions for improving the diets of infants and young children

Based on the findings from the landscape analysis, UNICEF LACRO identified the following key priority actions.

Availability of data: Improvements in data capture and administration, as well as multi-sector coordination, are recommended across the region. To address gaps in information and data relating to the diets of young children and to allow for monitoring of progress, UNICEF LACRO will prioritise supporting the integration of regular data collection and monitoring of complementary feeding indicators in national surveys and health information systems.

Ultra-processed foods and their marketing: A stronger policy response to unhealthy eating habits should be promoted and supported, focusing on supporting countries to adopt regulatory strategies to reduce the accessibility, availability and desirability of sugar-sweetened beverages and unhealthy or ultra-processed foods. These include ‘sugar taxes’, advertising restrictions and requirements for transparency in food labelling to facilitate healthy purchasing choices by caregivers (front-of-pack labelling).3

Research should be strengthened and experiences should be documented regarding tackling the availability and marketing of ultra-processed foods and commercial milk-based formulas, as well as strategies and programmes to improve diet diversity among children aged 6–23 months across the region. This can serve as a model for developing effective interventions and strategies that simultaneously target child overweight and undernutrition.

Counselling and support: To promote caregiver knowledge and awareness of healthy infant feeding practices, UNICEF LACRO will prioritise expanding the coverage and intensity of counselling and support to caregivers on feeding practices while considering local preferences, beliefs and socio-cultural contexts. Support of programmes will also promote positive interactions between service providers and caregivers during service delivery. Expanding the coverage of social protection services and using such services as an entry point for counselling and support have also been identified as a priority area.

Next steps

UNICEF LACRO will provide technical assistance to country offices in adapting the complementary feeding Action Framework to their context. In addition, UNICEF LACRO is committed to supporting the improvement of young children’s diets in emergency situations, thus building resilience in a region regularly affected by economic shocks, migration and disasters caused by natural phenomena. UNICEF LACRO has already conducted a regional webinar with the Global Nutrition Cluster Technical Alliance on supporting complementary feeding in emergencies, and will provide support to countries that are interested in, and require support to, expand their emergency preparedness and response efforts.

For more information, please contact Yvette Fautsch Macías:


UNICEF LACRO (2020) Trends, Drivers and Determinants of Young Children’s Diets. Regional and Country Briefs of Findings and Trends of Children's Diets Between 6 Months to 2 Years in Latin America and the Caribbean. United Nations Children’s Fund

UNICEF, WHO, & World Bank (2021) Joint Malnutrition Estimates. UNICEF, WHO, & World Bank



2 UNICEF LACRO was not able to monitor the unhealthy foods in the diets since the tools for this were launched after the completion of this study.

3 Across Latin American countries, 39 such regulatory strategies aimed at reducing the consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages were previously identified, with the efforts of Chile, Ecuador and Mexico being most comprehensive: see

More like this

FEX: Regional overview of emergency nutrition preparedness in Latin America and the Caribbean

View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici By Yvette Fautsch Macías and Stefano Fedele Yvette Fautsch Macías is Nutrition Specialist...

NEX: Innovative regional approaches to improving Nutrition in Emergency (NiE) preparedness and response capacity from Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)

By Stefano Fedele, Regional Nutrition Specialist and Rebecca Olson, NiE Consultant at UNICEF LAC Regional Office Nutrition hazards, risks, vulnerability and capacity in...

FEX: Undernourished and overlooked: A global nutrition crisis in adolescent girls and women

View this article as a pdf This is a summary of the following report: UNICEF (2023) Undernourished and overlooked: A global nutrition crisis in adolescent girls and women....

Leveraging the power of multiple systems to improve diets and feeding practices in early life in South Asia

View this article as a pdf Zivai Murira is the Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia, based in Kathmandu, Nepal. Harriet Torlesse is the Regional...

en-net: Request for Proposals for Institutional Consultancy to conduct a Nutr and WASH resilience-focused analysis in Corredor Seco

Dear Colleagues, UNICEF's Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office (LACRO) is pleased to announce a Request for Proposals for a resilience-focused analysis on the responses...

FEX: Determinants of adolescent nutritional status and practices in Burkina Faso: A pooled secondary analysis

View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici By Deepali Godha, Maurice Zafimanjaka, Estelle Bambara, Nathalie Likhite and Manisha Tharaney. Deepali...

FEX: Regional Perspective: Europe and Central Asia (ECA)

This article presents a summary of the findings of the ECA Regional Office (ECARO) landscape analysis report (UNICEF, 2020), drafted by the Emergency Nutrition Network (ENN)...

FEX: Youth power vs Big Food

Natasha Lelijveld Senior Nutritionist at Emergency Nutrition Network (ENN) Catharine Fleming Lecturer in Public Health at the School of Health Science, Western Sydney...

FEX: Regional Perspective: East Asia and Pacific

Jessica Blankenship is a Regional Nutrition Specialist in UNICEF's East Asia and Pacific Regional Office (EAPRO), specialising in maternal, infant and young child...

FEX: Regional Perspective: South Asia

Zivai Murira is the Regional Advisor for Nutrition at the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA), Kathmandu, Nepal All forms of malnutrition - stunting, wasting and...

FEX: Regional Perspective: West and Central Africa

Simeon Nanama is the Regional Nutrition Advisor at the UNICEF West and Central Africa Regional Office (WCARO) Arnaud Laillou is a Regional Nutrition Specialist (prevention...

FEX: Causes of chronic malnutrition: The cultural dimension

By Bronwen Gillespie Bronwen has a degree in Anthropology/International Development and a MA in Global Political Economy. She has worked in the area of food security and...

FEX: Policy brief on engagement between public and private sectors for nutrition

Summary of research1 Location: Global What we know: Worldwide 'nutrition transition', including in low-middle income countries is leading to increasing consumption of...

FEX: Food systems for children and adolescents

View this article as a pdf Research snapshot1 Well-nourished children and adolescents are the foundation of thriving communities and nations. Undernutrition, in the form of...

FEX: Food systems for children and adolescents

View this article as a pdf This is a summary of the following special issue: Kupka, R., Morris, S., & Fox, E. (ed) (2020). Food systems for children and adolescents. Global...

FEX: Regional Perspective: Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA)

Charity Zvandaziva is a Regional Nutrition Specialist for UNICEF ESA Regional Office (ESARO) Chloe Angood is a Knowledge Management Consultant working for UNICEF...

FEX: Importance of government policies and other influences in transforming global diets

Summary of published article1 Location: Global What we know: There have been significant global dietary and nutritional changes over the past 20 years or so due to a...

NEX: Regional nutrition strategies to address the double burden in the Eastern Mediterranean

Dr Ayoub Al Jawaldeh has been the Regional Adviser for Nutrition in the WHO Regional Office for Eastern Mediterranean Region since 2009, leading the Regional Nutrition...

FEX: Cambodia: Impacts of the nutrition transition on urban and rural mothers and children

Hillary Fry Registered Dietitian for Northern Health, Kitimat, Canada Sanne Sigh Advisor for the Multisectoral Food and Nutrition Security (MUSEFO) project, Deutsche...

FEX: Regional Perspective: Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

Aashima Garg is a Regional Nutrition Advisor at the UNICEF MENA Regional Office (MENARO), Amman Wigdan Madani is a Regional Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF MENARO, Amman High...


Reference this page

Yvette Fautsch Macías, Paula Veliz, Maaike Arts (). Regional Perspective: Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Field Exchange 68 , November 2022.



Download to a citation manager

The below files can be imported into your preferred reference management tool, most tools will allow you to manually import the RIS file. Endnote may required a specific filter file to be used.