Tackling Global Malnutrition

The Prime Minister will announce that tackling global malnutrition will be London's Olympic Legacy on the day of the closing ceremony. The purpose of this and related blogs is to encourage public health workers including nutritionists to get involved in international efforts to tackle malnutrition. Individuals and organisations can also find out what strategies are being used by agencies like Save the Children. We hope that the information presented here encourages support for their efforts. 

The Double Burden of Poor Nutrition

The Economist featured an article called The Nutrition Puzzle - why do so many people in poor countries eat so badly and what can be done about it? This article highlights the 'double burden' of poor nutrition in countries where both under nutrition and obesity have risen. 

In a world of 7 billion people

  1. 1 billion do not consume enough calories (under nutrition)
  2. 1 billion consume too many calories and are obese (over nutrition)
  3. A third of all children are underweight or stunted
  4. 1 billion are malnourished because they lack vitamins of which...
  5. 160 million children lack vitamin A which can lead to blindness, poor immunity and death
  6. 50% of children in developing countries are deficient in iron
  7. 18 million babies suffer poor mental development as a result of iodine deficiency

Strategies to Combat Global Malnutrition

Since speaking directly to those involved in this work, we've learned that in countries experiencing economic growth where the double burden exists, public health nutritionists and development workers aim to implement policies focusing on the whole food system (e.g. agriculture/nutrition interventions, nutrition and health education, promoting access to healthier food). In countries 'living on the edge' i.e. those that are too poor to achieve food security a different more direct approach is required. An Economist blog post 'Why nutrition matters?' quotes Mariel Ruel from the International Food Policy Research Institute who describes five approaches to tackling undernutrition:
  1. Focus on the first 1,000 days
  2. Scale up maternal health programmes
  3. Teach good feeding practices
  4. Concentrate on the poor who need help the most
  5. Measure, monitor and evaluate impact

The First 1,000 Days

A Lancet report focusing on child and maternal health highlights how poor nutrition in the first few years of life has a life time impact. Under nourished children are less likely to go to school, more likely to struggle academically, will earn less and die earlier. Save the Children say that although the state of the world's children has improved significantly over the past couple of decades, 'nutrition has shown the least progress' and the 'proportion of acutely malnourished children grew by 1.2% during the 1990s.'

Leading the Race Against Hunger

In recent times, there has been much debate about how to spend aid. DFID will be focusing on tackling undernutrition in the poorest parts o the world. It was reassuring to learn from USAID that DFID investment will have produced 'the return of 40 times' in terms of economic and humanitarian savings. The Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell, said at that meeting that It is not just the British government but 'the British taxpayer, British civil society, NGOs, charities, philanthropic foundations and the private sector. All of us are involved in this very important mission...' 
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