KARACHI: Nutrition can be a driver of change or a barrier to progress, and, according to the Global Nutrition Report being released on September 22 in New York City, there are actions leaders of every country should be taking to end malnutrition in all its forms.
Among the report’s key findings: One in three members of the global population is malnourished, and the problem exists in every country on the planet, yet the strategies or “high-impact interventions” available to resolve it are not being implemented due to lack of money, skills or political pressure.
“When one in three of us is held back, we as families, communities and nations cannot move forward,” said Lawrence Haddad, lead author of the study and senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). “This not only jeopardizes the lives of those who are malnourished, but also affects the larger framework for economic growth and sustainable development. Simply put: people cannot get anywhere near their full potential without first overcoming malnutrition.”
Childhood stunting and wasting remain serious problems: More than 160 million children worldwide under five are too short for their age or stunted, while more than 50 million do not weigh enough for their height or are wasted. Although countries are increasingly meeting goals for combating stunting and wasting, adult obesity another form of malnutrition is growing. The prevalence of obesity rose in every single country between 2010 and 2014, and one in 12 adults worldwide now has Type 2 diabetes.
“The Report, a follow up from the 2014 report, underscores the need for implementing critical nutrition actions urgently in countries with the greatest need, and especially in Pakistan where we face the double burden of persisting maternal and childhood under-nutrition and growing obesity,” said Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta, one of the authors, and founding director of the Centre for Excellence in Women and Child Health at the Aga Khan University and co-director of the Centre for Global Child Health at The Hospital for Sick Children.
Climate change is complicating global efforts to end malnutrition. Even small and seasonal fluctuations in climate can have big impacts on food availability and disease patterns, and these in turn dramatically affect children’s survival and development. This means, for example, that babies born in India in November and December are taller on average at three years of age than those born in April through September. In a world where many are not eating enough and others are eating too much, food systems also need attention.
Only one country Kenya is on course for all five World Health Assembly targets on nutrition. Four countries Colombia, Ghana, Vanuatu and Vietnam are on course for four targets. Pakistan is among the 20 countries that have met only one target.
In many countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria only a minority of children are growing healthily. A new analysis shows that the percentage of children under five who are not stunted or wasted ranges between 43 and 48 per cent in Pakistan.
Countries that are committed to reducing malnutrition have the capability to do so, according to the report. Investing in improved nutrition can have economic returns that outpace the US stock market in recent decades. Investing $1 can yield up to $16 in economic benefits.
The timing of the report is particularly important as United Nations member states convene to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals later this month. Malnutrition is tied to many of the proposed goals and when 45 percent of all deaths of children under five are related to malnutrition it is critical that leaders keep nutrition policy at the forefront of their decision-making.
The report recommends that countries can meet SDGs’ second goal of ending hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030 through political commitment, redesigning existing food systems, engaging new partners particularly private sector, identifying data gaps, and strengthening accountability.
“The sustainable development goals offer a unique opportunity for the government of Pakistan and the political leadership to provide non-partisan support to move rapidly to develop a national action plan for nutrition,” concluded Dr Bhutta.