2.3bn people overweight, 150m children stunted, WHO says

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World Health Organisation (WHO) says no fewer than 2.3 billion children and adults are overweight, while more than 150 million children are stunted globally.

The WHO disclosed this in a statement released on Monday in Geneva, on four-paper report published on Double Burden of Malnutrition in The Lancet Medical Journal.

According to the report, twin presence of obesity and under-nutrition reflect shifts in food systems worldwide, as more than one in three low- and middle-income countries face both extremes of malnutrition.

The statement, however, stated that in low- and middle-income countries, these emerging issues overlap in individuals, families, communities and countries.

It added that the new report explored trends behind this intersection – known as the double burden of malnutrition – as well as societal and food system changes that may be causing it.

The report also explored the biological explanation and effects, as well as policy measures that might help to address malnutrition in all its forms.

According to WHO, a new approach is needed to help reduce under-nutrition and obesity at the same time, as the issues become increasingly connected due to rapid changes in countries’ food systems.

It noted that “this is especially important in low- and middle-income countries where more than a third of such countries have overlapping forms of malnutrition.

“A total of 45 out of 123 countries in the 1990s, and 48 of 126 countries in the 2010s, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and East Asia and the Pacific had overlapping forms of malnutrition.

“Under-nutrition and obesity can lead to effects across generations as both maternal under-nutrition and obesity are associated with poor health in offspring.

“However, because of the speed of change in food systems, more people are being exposed to both forms of malnutrition at different points in their lifetime, which further increases harmful health effects.’’

The statement quoted the Lead Author of the report, Dr Francesco Branca, who is also the Director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, WHO, as saying: “we are facing a new nutrition reality.

“We can no longer characterise countries as low-income and undernourished, or high-income and only concerned with obesity.

“All forms of malnutrition have 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 labelling, to consumption and waste.

“All relevant policies and investments must be radically re-examined.”

The statement also quoted Dr Richard Horton, the Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet, as saying: “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”.

In addition, the report stated that 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.

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