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Malnutrition on the rise: Poor countries need dietary changes

NEW YORK: According to recent report, a new approach was needed to help reduce undernutrition and obesity at the same time. It was stated that more than a third of countries in the world, reported overlapping forms of malnutrition, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific. The two issues became increasingly connected owing to rapid changes in countries’ food systems

Undernutrition and obesity could lead to effect across generations.Both maternal undernutrition and obesity were associated with poor health in offspring. However, because of the speed of change in food systems, more people were being exposed to both forms of malnutrition at different points in their lives. This would further increase harmful health effects.

Dr Francesco Branca, Director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, World Health Organization said, “We are facing a new nutrition reality. We can no longer characterize countries as low-income and undernourished, or high-income and only concerned with obesity. All forms of malnutrition have a common denominator – food systems that fail to provide all people with healthy, safe, affordable, and sustainable diets. Changing this will require action across food systems – from production and processing, through trade and distribution, pricing, marketing, and labeling, to consumption and waste. All relevant policies and investments must be radically re-examined.”

Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet, said, “Today’s publication of the WHO Series on the Double Burden of Malnutrition comes after 12 months of Lancet articles exploring nutrition in all its forms. With these and other articles across Lancet journals throughout 2019, it has become clear that nutrition and malnutrition need to be approached from multiple perspectives. Although findings have sometimes converged, there is still work to be done to understand malnutrition’s multiple manifestations. With six years remaining in the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025), this Series and Comment define the future direction required to achieve the global goal of eradicating hunger and preventing malnutrition in all its forms.”

Globally, estimates suggested that almost 2.3 billion children and adults were overweight, and more than 150 million children were stunted. However, these emerging issues overlapped in individuals, families, communities, and countries. The trends behind this intersection were known as the double burden of malnutrition as well as the societal and food system changes. The new report explored that such trend might be have its biological explanation and effects, and policy measures that may help address malnutrition in all its forms.

The authors used survey data from low- and middle-income countries in the 1990s and 2010s to estimate which countries faced a double burden of malnutrition (i.e., in the population, more than 15% of people had wasting, more than 30% were stunted, more than 20% of women had thinness, and more than 20% of people were overweight).

In the 2010s, 14 countries with some of the lowest incomes in the world had newly developed a double burden of malnutrition, compared with the 1990s. However, fewer low- and middle-income countries with the highest incomes were affected than in the 1990s. The authors said that this reflected the increasing prevalence of being overweight in the poorest countries, where populations still faced stunting, wasting, and thinness.

High-quality diets reduced the risk of malnutrition in all its forms by promoting healthy growth, development, and immunity, and preventing obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) throughout life. The components of healthy diets were: optimal breastfeeding practices in the first two years; a diversity and abundance of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fiber, nuts, and seeds; modest amounts of animal source foods; minimal amounts of processed meats, and minimal amounts of foods and beverages high in energy and added amounts of sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, and salt.

-Article published in The Lancet.

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December 20, 2019

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