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Shift in Fight Against Hunger: Tackling Malnutrition

Shift in Fight Against Hunger: Tackling Malnutrition

Both governments and international food aid agencies are shifting their approach to hunger relief by focusing less on simply increasing the supply of food and instead focusing on nutrition, according to a recent article in The Economist.  While the Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s attacked the leading problem of its day – an increasing global population and lower crop yields – the last 15-20 years have seen the problem of access to nutrients through food as the larger problem.

“Underlying all this is a change in thinking about how best to improve nutrition, with less stress on providing extra calories and food and more on improving nutrition by supplying micro-nutrients such as iron and vitamins.”

The article points out that among the global population, the problems with how people access food does not fall into only one category; with hunger, obesity and malnutrition each taking a significant share.  “It is a damning record: out of the world population of 7 billion, 3 billion eat too little, too unhealthily, or too much.”  Within the global population, malnourished people constitute a “hidden hungry” because they suffer secondary impairments, starting in childhood, which people cannot immediately recognize or trace their origin.

The affects of malnutrition are more acute for children, and when they occur undetected in the first 1,000 days of their life, they can cause irreparable damage to a child’s development.

“More than 160m children in developing countries suffer from a lack of vitamin A; 1m die because they have weak immune systems and 500,000 go blind each year. Iron deficiency causes anaemia, which affects almost half of poor-country children and over 500m women, killing more than 60,000 of them each year in pregnancy. Iodine deficiency—easily cured by adding the stuff to salt—causes 18m babies each year to be born with mental impairments.” [Also, see chart above]

Whereas solutions to low crop yields and changing the eating patterns of the obese take greater time and cost, the article points out that “The good news is that better nutrition can be a stunningly good investment…Nothing else in development policy has such high returns on investment.”  These solutions may range from iron supplements for pregnant women, programs promoting breastfeeding and developing bio-fortified foods that fit into local diets.

Underscoring the need for making childhood malnutrition a target for international policymakers, Save the Children released a report saying that 2.6 million children die each year as a result of malnutrition.  An article in The Guardian drew a hopeful perspective from the reports findings, saying that while, “Soaring food prices are identified as an aggravating factor…these damaging trends can be halted and reversed using tried and tested solutions if political will exists and public awareness is raised.”

Image credit: The Economist