Odds are, some­one you know is mal­nour­ished

No coun­try left un­af­fected by grow­ing global prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to new re­port


Malnutrition is a stag­ger­ing, hy­dra­headed is­sue that im­pacts a third of the global pop­u­la­tion — and not just in poor coun­tries. This week, a panel of ex­perts re­leased the 2015 Global Nutri­tion Re­port, a checkup of the world’s progress.

The Star spoke to lead au­thor Lawrence Had­dad.

No coun­try un­af­fected

Around the world, one in three peo­ple are cur­rently mal­nour­ished, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

“When you put all the dif­fer­ent types of malnutrition to­gether, you see that ev­ery coun­try is deal­ing with malnutrition in one form or another,” said Had­dad, a se­nior re­search fel­low at the In­ter­na­tional Food Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute, which pro­duced the re­port.

“Peo­ple think of malnutrition as some­thing that hap­pens in poor coun­tries but it’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing ev­ery­where. Prob­a­bly some­one you know is af­fected by malnutrition, whether it’s kids who don’t grow prop­erly or women who are ane­mic.”

A glim­mer of hope

“Stunt­ing” is a marker of poor im­mune sys­tems and brain de­vel­op­ment and refers to chil­dren who are too short for their age. Stunt­ing has also long been con­sid­ered an ex­cep­tion­ally dif­fi­cult puz­zle to solve but this latest re­port of­fers a glim­mer of hope: 39 coun­tries are now on track to meet global tar­gets for re­duc­ing stunt­ing, com­pared with 24 last year.

“That’s re­ally good news,” Had­dad said. “When coun­tries put their minds to it, they can deal with things that we thought were re­ally quite in­tractable.”

No progress on obe­sity

Rates of obe­sity, which is a form of malnutrition, in­creased in all coun­tries be­tween 2010 and 2014 — and nearly half are now grap­pling with obe­sity and stunt­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously, Had­dad said. “Just as coun­tries are be­gin­ning to get a grip on stunt­ing, they have to deal with these new is­sues.”

Only one coun­try had good news to re­port on obe­sity: the tiny is­land of Nauru, where obe­sity rates for adult males dipped — but just barely, to 39.7 per cent from 39.9 per cent. More aid money needed The re­port’s au­thors be­lieve that aid or­ga­ni­za­tions are spend­ing be­tween $4 bil­lion and $5 bil­lion (U.S.) on nutri­tion, ac­cord­ing to Had­dad, who said that fig­ure needs to grow to about $15 bil­lion.

He pointed to coun­tries such as Swe­den, Den­mark and Nor­way, which are huge de­vel­op­ment aid donors but spend barely any­thing on nutri­tion pro­grams. While $15 bil­lion sounds like a lot of money, the dev­as­ta­tion caused by malnutrition is far greater.

“When you think that 45 per cent of all un­der-5 deaths are due to malnu- tri­tion, that doesn’t seem like a lot,” he noted. Lack of gov­ern­ment com­mit­ment Had­dad called the por­tion of na­tional bud­gets de­voted to nutri­tion “re­ally low” for the 14 coun­tries an­a­lyzed in the re­port — a me­dian of just 1.3 per cent.

“Draw­ing on some analy­ses that the World Bank has done, that’s got to dou­ble over the next 10 years,” he said. He pointed out that while both donors and gov­ern­ments need to in­vest more in nutri­tion, it’s the lat­ter that re­ally have to com­mit.

“Donors can’t do it on their own. And even if they could, it’s not sus­tain­able,” he said. “Gov­ern­ments need to pony up the money and they need to do it quickly.” Vi­tal data miss­ing Had­dad said about 100 of the 193 coun­tries an­a­lyzed in the re­port data are lack­ing vi­tal nutri­tion data — mean­ing we still have no idea whether they’re on track to meet global tar­gets.

“I think that’s re­ally shock­ing,” he said. “And the data that we do have, a lot of it’s so old. You wouldn’t make eco­nomic pol­icy on data that was two or four years old; why on Earth would you do the same thing for nutri­tion?” Eco­nomic ben­e­fits Good nutri­tion is good for the econ­omy be­cause chil­dren who are mal­nour­ished will never meet their full po­ten­tial, Had­dad said.

“They learn less, they leave school ear­lier, they are less likely to get a job,” he said.

For Had­dad, in­vest­ing in kids’ brains is a way to in­vest in the econ­omy. “Ev­ery dol­lar or so in­vested in nutri­tion pro­grams, we get $16 back,” he said.

“That’s just a fan­tas­tic in­vest­ment. That far out­per­forms the U.S. stock mar­ket over the last 70 years.”

Obe­sity in­creased in all coun­tries be­tween 2010 and 2014, said Lawrence Had­dad, lead au­thor of the re­port.

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