World Food Day: The Diminishing Undernourishment & the Increasing Overweight Issues

Lack of access to food contributes to malnutrition greatly
Stunting Due to Malnutrition Has Decreased Tremendously

Undernourishment is on and off the number scale. While there were 900 million people suffering from undernourishment in the year 1990, the year 2016 showed an estimated 815 million undernourished people, a rise from the 777 million people undernourished in the 2015. This is a matter of grave concern as the UN’s FAO has given 2030 as the year to end hunger worldwide. This may be a period of transition, but facts show that reduction in undernourishment has been decreasing significantly since 2010. The theme for 2017 is ‘Change the future of migration. Invest in food security & rural development.’ This year has been aptly themed as the food security situations have worsened visibly in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South-Eastern and Western Asia.

Stunting due to malnutrition has decreased greatly, both globally and regionally. But it still affects one in four children under the age of five years, decreasing their cognitive abilities, weakening school and work performance and increasing death rates due to infections. Meanwhile, overweight among children under the age of five is becoming a common problem with adult obesity rates too increasing rapidly. Different malnutrition forms coexist in countries, with both high rates of child undernutrition and adult obesity prevailing simultaneously. This is because of various nutritional factors apart from food security such as women’s educational level, monetary funds available for maternal, children and infant programs and policies, basic sanitation facilities, access to clean water, lifestyle, food environment and culture. These factors are major hindrances to achieve a ‘zero hunger’ goal by 2030 and pose a great challenge to this target. Only with complete dedication and efforts to promote availability and access of food to the world population this target becomes achievable.

Malnutrition Trends

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 charts down plans to end all forms of nutrition by the year 2030. By all forms, we mean malnutrition ranging from severe undernutrition to overweight and obesity affecting populations throughout the life cycle, right from conception through childhood, into adolescence, adulthood and old age. Malnutrition may be due to:

  • Deficiency in micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) and macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats & proteins).
  • Insufficient access to food
  • Restricted nutrients intake and infections
  • Excessive food intake and limited energy expenditures resulting in fat accumulation and increase in body weight.

Stunting in the Younger Population

Stunting refers to decreased growth in height for the kid’s age because of undernutrition When this phenomenon happens before the age of two, children become more prone to illness and less prone to increased cognitive abilities during later stages of childhood and adolescence. When such abilities decrease, the economic development of an entire nation crumbles to pieces as it affects the earning capabilities and social skills of such individuals. The SDG aims to achieve diminished stunting rates by 2025. Estimates from the year 2016 convey the fact that 155 million children under the age of five suffer from stunting globally while the rates between the periods 2005 and 2016 fell from 29.5% to 22.9%. It is sad to hear that most of the stunted population live in Asia (87 million) and Africa (59 million) with India having almost 39% of children under the age of five stunted. The reasons for stunting start as early as pregnancy stage and are briefed clearly in the website

Wasting in the Younger Population

Being too thin for one’s height is called wasting and this leads to weight loss and diminished weight gain. Wasting is a result of very low birth weight, inadequate diet, infections and poor healthcare practices. It is the need of the hour to take effective preventive measures against wasting and also to take timely treatment measures to treat children affected by severe wasting. The target decided by the FAO includes reducing childhood wasting below 5 percent by 2025.

Overweight Among Children Under Five Years of Age

Overweight is defined as being too heavy for one’s age and can have several side effects such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, sleep disorders, liver problem and other respiratory disorders. The overweight rates have increased from 5% in 2005 to 6% (41 million) in 2016. Children prefer highly processed foods high in fats and sugar, don’t involve themselves in physical activity and lead a sedentary lifestyle, all of which are important causes for energy imbalance among children population.

Adult Obesity

Weighing more than the healthy weight that is the result of consuming more than the energy expelled is called obesity. This is the root cause for many diseases such as heart problems and even cancers. Curbing obesity helps to achieve well-being, healthy life as well as reducing the death rates due to non-communicable diseases. The time period between 1980 and 2014 is the worst as obesity rates almost doubled. More women (15%) than men (11%) are affected by obesity with almost 600 million adults affected by obesity till the 2014.

Processed foods high in salt and sugar, sedentary lifestyle because of urbanization and imbalance between food energy intake and energy use are some major factors contributing to high obesity rates.

Anemia in Women of Reproductive Age

A low count and size of red blood cells in the body results in anemia which hinders the blood’s ability to transport oxygen around the body. Anemia is an indication of poor nutrition and health. A diet low in micronutrients such as iron, folate and vitamins A and B12, acute chronic infections, chronic diseases and genetic disorders can lead to anemia. Women and children are mostly affected and 2016 estimates show that 33 percent of women in reproductive age (about 613 women between 49 years) have anemia.

Exclusive Breastfeeding of Infants Under Six Months of Age

Breastfeeding provides a child with all the nutrients needed for a child’s physical and cognitive growth. It also decreases the risk of overweight and obesity in the later stages of life. Almost 43% infants are exclusively breast-fed in their first six months, according to 2016 reports.

The Results

Many countries in the world have multiple forms of malnutrition and food insecurity always coexists with obesity. The reasons behind malnutrition and food insecurity differs from country to country. Processed foods, climate changes alter the availability of food leading to food insecurity and economic slowdowns in countries dependent primarily on export affect food availability and accessibility. Malnutrition is not only because of insufficient access to nutritious foods but also due to other reasons such as improper access to proper healthcare, drinking water, sanitation, hygiene and education. Conflict is another major concern for malnutrition and food insecurity.

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