Background: As the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases has increased worldwide over the past 30 years, the agricultural sector has undergone marked and important changes. This paper asks whether these changes are linked to the development of dietary patterns associated with cardiovascular and other diet-related chronic diseases.
Methods: Data on agricultural production are collated and presented, and the literature on agricultural policy in Latin America reviewed and synthesized.
Results: Globally, agricultural production has risen for all major food groups in the past 25 years, but the rate of increase has been much faster for foods associated with cardiovascular and other diet-related chronic diseases, both in negative and positive directions. Latin America is a major producer of vegetable oils, meat and fish, and also of sugar and fruit. Agricultural policy in the region underwent a major paradigm shift in the early 1990s, moving from production-led to market-led policies as part of globalization. The food-consuming industries (distributors, manufacturers, processors and retailers) played a key role in this dynamic. Case studies from Brazil, Colombia and Chile show that these agricultural policy changes are linked to changing consumption patterns of soybean oil, chicken and beef, and fruit. Thus by facilitating greater consumption of specific foods, these changes in agricultural production and policy can be linked with the ‘‘nutrition transition’’. They also reflect a response to changing food demand.
Conclusions: Agricultural policies can affect the relative availability and price of different foods relative to others. Changes in agricultural production and policies can therefore be associated with dietary changes; historically, these have had both positive and negative implications for cardiovascular health. Governments in Latin America could use agricultural and food policies to promote cardiovascular health by creating incentives for the agricultural sector and the food-consuming industries to produce a food supply aligned with dietary guidelines.