UN says the health of hundreds of millions of people are at risk following limited progress being made in addressing the multiple forms of malnutrition, ranging from child stunting to adult obesity.
“2018 edition of the global report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition’’ released in Rome by five UN agencies by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), made this known.
The five UN agencies are Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The report also found limited progress in reducing child stunting, stating that nearly 151 million children younger than 5 were too short for their age due to malnutrition in 2017, compared with 165 million in 2012.
Globally, Africa and Asia accounted for 39 per cent and 55 per cent of all stunted children respectively.
Africa has seen an upward trend in the number of stunted children, while Asia has experienced the largest relative decrease in stunting prevalence.
The report argued that malnutrition in all its forms is not limited to hunger, but also micronutrient deficiencies, as well as overweight and obesity.
The report described it as a very critical challenge that required a better understanding of the determinants and processes that influence diets.
The agencies noted that latest available estimates indicated that about 815 million people in the world facing hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to health worldwide.
“It discovered that 821 million people one in every nine were malnourished in 2017, up from 815 million in 2016, putting at risk the UN’s goal of eradicating hunger globally by 2030.
The report added that there was also limited progress in 2017 in addressing multiple forms of malnutrition, such as child stunting and adult obesity, putting the health of hundreds of millions of people at risk.
According to the report, hunger is on the rise over the past three years, returning to levels from a decade ago.
“This reversal in progress sends a clear warning that more must be done and urgently if the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of ‘Zero Hunger’ is to be achieved by 2030,’’ it said.
“The report describes as “shameful” the fact that one in three women of reproductive age globally is affected by anaemia, which has significant health and development consequences for both women and their children.
“No region has shown a decline in anaemia among women of reproductive age, and the prevalence in Africa and Asia is nearly three times higher than in North America,’’ it said.
The agencies said further that the rates of exclusive breastfeeding in Africa and Asia are 1.5 times higher than those in North America where only 26 per cent of infants under-six months receive breast milk exclusively.
The report confirmed that obesity on the rise and adult obesity is worsening, and more than one in eight adults in the world is obese.
It showed that the problem is most significant in North America, but Africa and Asia are also experiencing an upward trend.
“Under-nutrition and obesity coexist in many countries, and can even be seen side by side in the same household.
“Poor access to nutritious food due to its higher cost, the stress of living with food insecurity, and physiological adaptations to food deprivation help explain why food-insecure families may have a higher risk of overweight and obesity,’’ it said.
The report recommended that as solutions to hunger and all forms of malnutrition, there must be immediate focus on ensuring an adequate supply of food, but equally, on the quality of diets.
It added that in spite of record food output globally, hunger is still with us.
The report argued that key policy actions are urgently needed to tackle this scourge and must focus on improving diet quality for all.
The report also called for implementing and scaling up interventions aimed at guaranteeing access to nutritious foods and breaking the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition.
It said special attention must be paid to policies on groups who are the most vulnerable to the harmful consequences of poor food access, infants, children aged under five, school-aged children, adolescent girls, and women.
The report also suggested that a sustainable shift must be made toward nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems that can provide safe and high-quality food for all.
The report, however, called for greater efforts to build climate resilience through policies that promote climate change adaptation and mitigation, and disaster risk reduction.
According to FAO, the report gave an updated estimate of the number of hungry people in the world, including regional and national breakdowns, and the latest data on child stunting and wasting as well as on adult and child obesity.
“It is indeed a snapshot on global hunger and malnutrition, and analysis of their main drivers.
“It is an important yardstick in measuring progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger,’’ it said in a statement.
It added that the report also offered analysis of the drivers of hunger and malnutrition, which included a special focus on the impact of climate variability and extremes.