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Train spotlight on obesity too and not just undernutrition; advice experts

Posted:  Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Malnutrition almost always implies undernutrition whereas in actual definition, it conveys both the ends of the spectrum. Government policies too often focus on undernutrition but much worryingly obesity has been kicking up a bigger storm in the background!

As per the statistics in 2014, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimated 795 million people to be hungry whereas according to World Health Organisation, 1.9 billion adults aged 18 and older were obese. According to experts, this transition in health status needs to be captured more effectively in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Traditionally, development experts have focused on undernutrition. However, the SDGs undertaken by developed and developing countries, try to correct this imbalance by taking in a holistic view of food and nutrition security. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), SDGs place increased emphasis on nutrition and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), aiming to reduce premature death due to NCDs by 1/3rd and end malnutrition in all forms.

The worrying fact is male and female obesity trends vary. According to WHO, irrespective of income, females tend to be more obese than their male counterparts. Talking of economics, the fiscal costs of obesity related diseases are projected to run into trillions in the U.S. These rates are dynamic with increasing healthcare costs tied to increasing obesity in developing nations too.

Availability of cheap food in relation to income is one of the root causes of obesity turning to be a global pandemic. The food industry amply supplies calorie dense, tasty and cheap foods and beverages, a trend that has not been studied enough. Developing economies have always reeled under the threat of war related food insufficiency and volatile markets. This has led to increased production and even import of crops such as wheat, rice and maize putting the development of pulses, fruits and vegetables on the backburner. This preference has resulted in reduced diversity of food production.

Now, developmental goals are not just focusing on food security but also on diet diversity, food access and body’s utilisation of food by individuals in the poorest households, particularly women and children. Targeted nutrition aimed at adolescent girls and mother’s health and nutrition and her breastfeeding status may aid future health development. In conclusion, the experts say that developing nations must learn from their developed counterparts and not repeat their health mistakes.

It is crucial that not just citizens but leaders as well rally for strong political commitment to addressing malnutrition in all its forms. Scaling up high impact food and nutrition interventions, and ensuring an environment that makes it much easier and cheaper for all households to make healthy choices are a must to tame the obesity monster that is taking over the world.

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