April 25, 2016

Rethinking malnutrition, and its solutions

Written by Dr. Alessandro Demaio, WHO

This post originally appeared on MJA InSight. Reposted with permission.

When the United Nations unveiled its new Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 – the blueprint to guide national agendas and political policies for the coming 15 years and the successors to the Millennium Development Goals – a major shift in thinking occurred.

Included in this list of 17 goals and 169 targets for investment, focus, research and action, was a new way of thinking about a long-established challenge. Reflecting the transforming global burden, the narrative of nutrition evolved in a fundamental way.

Moving from a focus on undernutrition alleviation and food security, this new agenda unveiled and embedded a more holistic approach – one that included food quality, equity and food systems, and broke down traditional policy and implementation silos with a central focus on malnutrition in all its forms.

Today, approximately 462 million people worldwide continue to be underweight, while almost two billion are overweight or obese. An estimated 41 million children under the age of 5 are overweight or obese, while 159 million are chronically undernourished. In low- and middle-income countries with emerging economies, almost five million children continue to die of undernutrition-related causes every year, yet simultaneously these same populations are now witnessing a rise of childhood overweight and obesity – increasing at a rate 30% faster than in richer nations.

In the context of a rapidly and dramatically changing global nutrition landscape, influenced by economic and income growth, rapid urbanisation and globalisation, human diets and diet-related epidemiology have seen significant shifts in recent decades.

Once accepted as near-linear processes of nutrition and associated epidemiological transitions – processes by which economic development, dietary patterns and resulting epidemiology transform from a predominant burden of undernutrition, including micronutrient deficiency, to overweight and obesity – nations, households and even individuals are now struggling with a much more complex nutrition paradigm.

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