Bolivia. In March this year, 12-year old Eva Vega Quino starved to death in the small room – previously a toilet – that she shared with her parents and five siblings. Her death shook the entire nation and made the extreme poverty many Bolivians live in visible.
-When she died we hadn’t had anything to eat for two weeks, says Eva’s half brother Alan Quino. Alan is 19 years old, but only weighs 45 kilos and does not look older than 14.
Alan started working as a bricklayer after his mum and stepfather fell ill from tuberculosis and anemia. He was the sole breadwinner and made the equivalent of £5/day, until March when he could no longer find employment.
-The money I made was enough for us to have bread for breakfast and bread and rice for lunch. We didn’t have dinner. When there was no more money I gave my siblings salted water and put them to bed, he says.
The family lives in El Alto, close to the capital of La Paz, in a house given to the family by the state after Eva’s death.
El Alto has thousands of migrants from the countryside, and three of its districts suffer extreme poverty. According to UNICEF, 46 percent of the children in the poorest part of the population are malnourished.
While the fight against malnourishment has been a state priority, overweight and obesity has not been viewed as a problem. But in 2008, the national demography and health survey pointed to an increase of cases of high blood pressure, diabetes, and renal failure, caused by poor diet.
Doctor Roxana Barbero, an endocrinology specialist, estimates that the increase of cases of obesity and overweight in Bolivia the last 20 years is comparable to the situation in countries like Mexico and USA, where the numbers of overweight are among the highest in the world.
-The last 10-20 years we have observed that 90 percent of the children that come to see us have problems related to overweight. Dietary changes and a decrease in physical activities are the reasons for this, she says and explains that fast food and soft drinks are the main culprits. Today, Bolivians eat more deep fried foods and the children are less physically active.
Article published in Göteborgsposten 28/8-17.