On my visa run trip to Costa Rica last week, I quickly realized that Costa Rica is a much more obese country than Nicaragua (and every other Latin American country I have been to). Most Nicaraguans are skinny and only a small percentage, maybe 10%, I would actually call overweight. However, I’d say that it’s probably triple that in Costa Rica.
It’s interesting to see this difference, as Costa Rica is a much wealthier country. I think the cause pinned down to a few reasons. For one, there is much more fast food in Costa Rica. Most of the main fast food chains can we seen around San Jose and other parts of the country. In San Jose, I saw at least 5 different McDonalds. Many restaurants that aren’t American food chains are local places that serve fried chicken and other fried foods. I honestly had never seen so much fried chicken in my life as the day I spent walking around San Jose. It seemed that in the center of the city, there was at least one fried chicken spot within every city block.
The second reason is the percentage of jobs in offices which is an effect of a more developed country. San Jose hosts many large corporations and their headquarters, so jobs in accounting, finance, sales, legal, and HR are much more prevalent in Costa Rica than Nicaragua. Many jobs in Nicaragua are local corner stores, construction, tourism, restaurants, etc. These involve much less sitting and require much more physical activity.
My third and final reason is the lack of free time. Costa Ricans commute longer distances and work more hours meaning that they have less free time. This magnifies my first two assumptions: people are sitting in offices rather than doing physical activity, and people are cooking less and buying more fast food. Most Nicaraguans will eat three home-cooked meals consisting of rice, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, and maybe some type of meat. They make the time to cook these more natural meals (not to mention that packaged and processed foods are much more expensive than fresh foods from the market).
I find this very interesting, the difference between the relatively developed Costa Rica and then very poor Nicaragua. It seems that as some countries become more developed, they become more obese. You would think that the wealthier we get, the better quality of life we would have in regards to food and lifestyle. However, this seems to be the exact contrary in some countries.