Thousands of families in Guatemala survive on a very precarious diet of flour and cereals and afford protein-rich foods like meat and dairy products which are essential for growth and mental development of people. This is particularly true in the rural areas of the Central American republic where indigenous peoples live in remote villages.

Physicians often see cases of chronic malnutrition, which marks the health of people affected for the rest of life. With a population of some 14 million people, Guatemala shows Latin America's highest rate of chronic malnutrition among children: 49.3% boys and girls under the age of five. It is among the highest rates in the world.

According to Guatemalan government nutritionists, the northwestern Totonicapán (mostly inhabited by indigenous people) province registers the highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the country. There, 77% of the population subsists each day on one tamale made of corn paste, barley water and broth, without meat or vegetables. This leads to chronic malnutrition.

The data reported by the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP) are alarming, chronic malnutrition reduces the intellectual coefficient between 10 and 15 points and vitamin A deficiency affects the immunological system of 40% of children under five years of age. Chronic malnutrition is evident during the first 1,000 days of human life and causes irreversible psychological and physiological damage. According to the UN, between 2002 and 2008, anemia in children under 5 years increased from 42 to 48%, while obesity increased by 87% over the past 43 years. Malnutrition is a problem that is eliminated with the supply of a meal but improved with the reduction of poverty and improvements in education, health and access to employment of women. 

In 2010, bad weather brought about poor crops while world prices for maize rose. Guatemalans depend upon maize as a stable for making tamales and maize cakes known as tortillas. It was in Central America that indigenous peoples first cultivated maize, thousands of years ago.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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