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.