Malnutrition: A major cause for concern

Malnutrition and unhealthy diets contribute to the global burden of diseases, leaving 1/3 of people around the world undernourished or overweight.

Photo by: AFP (Archive)
Photo by: AFP (Archive)

Four-year-old malnourished child Shahadat Hussein cries as he is examined by a doctor at the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre at Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital in Bihar, India.

A 2016 Global Nutrition Report by the International Food Policy Research Institute has expressed major concern at the rising rate of global malnutrition.

The report highlighted malnutrion in obese and overweight adults and children, as well as the undernourished.

It showed how malnutrition was increasing disease rates which then creates a higher demand on health services for malnourished adults and children.

Malnutrition comes in many forms, among those who don’t get enough food and vitamins include poor child growth and development as well as an increased vulnerability to infections.

Four-year-old malnourished child Komal Kumari lies on a bed at the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre at Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital in Bihar.

Obese and overweight adults and children are more likely to be vulnerable to heart disease due to the amount of cholesterol and fat in the body and too much sugar and sodium in the blood.

Additionally, they'll have a higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer. 

Professor Corinna Hawkes, who co-chaired the research, said, "Malnutrition literally means bad nutrition. That's anyone who isn't adequately nourished including the obese and overweight."

Lawrence Haddad, a senior researcher at the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute and a co-author of the report said, "One in three people suffer from some form of malnutrition.”

The report also suggests that malnutrition is responsible for nearly half of all deaths of children under the age of five worldwide.

It added that together with poor diets, it is the number one driver of disease.

A malnourished boy cries as he sits on a bed at a malnutrition intensive care unit in Yemen's capital Sanaa February 10, 2016.

Barbara Frost, chief executive of WaterAid, an international organisation that focuses on improving access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, said the report had been right to recognise the fundamental role that clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene play in nutrition.

“It’s unacceptable that millions of children, having survived the difficult early years, still face an uncertain and unhealthy future for the simple lack of clean water and a basic toilet.”

At least 57 countries have a double burden of serious levels of malnutrition including stunted growth and anaemia.

The report pointed to what it said was the 'staggering economic costs of malnutrition', warning that 11 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is lost every year in Africa and Asia because of it.

Although being malnourished has generally been associated with children who are starving, the authors of the report also highlighted the 'staggering global challenge' posed by the increase in obesity.

Santiago Mendoza is at risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and severe problems with his joints in the future.

Individual family costs can also be high.

In the US, when one person in a household is obese, that household spends on average an extra eight percent of its annual income on healthcare.

In China, having diabetes results in an annual 16.3 percent loss of income for the patient.

Despite the problems, there have been pockets of progress, the report found.

The number of stunted children under five is falling in every region except Africa and Oceania.

In Ghana, stunted rates have almost halved to 19 percent from 36 percent in just over a decade.

Haddad said, "Despite the challenges, malnutrition is not inevitable.

He said as long as there was political commitment to tackle the issue.

"Where leaders in government, civil society, academia and business are committed... anything is possible."

Reuters, TRTWorld and agencies