Undernutrition (wasting, stunting, and underweight), insufficient vitamins and minerals, overweight, obesity, and the resulting diet-related non-communicable illnesses are all examples of malnutrition. Overweight or obese people account for 1.9 billion adults, while underweight individuals account for 462 million. In 2020, it is anticipated that 149 million children under the age of five would be stunted (too short for their age), 45 million will be wasted (too thin for their height), and 38.9 million will be overweight or obese.
Obesity is a well-recognized NCD risk factor due to its links to diet-related NCDs, including cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and diabetes. Child and adolescent obesity has increased tenfold in the last four decades, with 38 million children under the age of five being overweight in 2017, up from 8 million in 2000. This tendency has the potential to undo a lot of the progress made in raising life expectancy around the world. The influence of stunting on NCDs is less clear but no less worrying. Stunting is now recognized as a risk factor for being overweight and having NCDs later in life, as it is a direct cause of short stature and poor cognitive and physical function. Globally, 151 million children are stunted. The vast majority of these children live in low- and middle-income nations, which have the highest rates of childhood overweight and obesity. These are also the countries where NCD prevalence is growing fastest.
Poor quality diets are among the top 6 risk factors contributing to the global burden of disease. Diets low in fruits and vegetables, high in sodium, low in nuts and seeds, low in whole grains, and poor in seafood-derived omega-3 fatty acids are all linked to an increased risk of NCDs. Indicative of the tight links between diet, malnutrition and NCDs, 4 of the 9 voluntary targets outlined in the WHO GAP for the Prevention and control of NCDs (mentioned above), relate to nutrition or diets as follows:
· A 25% relative reduction in risk of premature mortality from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, or chronic respiratory diseases.
· A 30% relative reduction in mean population intake of salt/sodium.
· Halt the rise in diabetes and obesity.
· A 10% relative reduction in prevalence of insufficient physical inactivity.
While the last point does not directly relate to diets, it does influence nutritional results through its effect on energy balance. Physical activity is a must in the context of the nutrition change. Indeed, the global increase in overweight and obesity is largely a consequence of shifting dietary patterns; mainly consumption of foods high in fat, sugar and/or salt and low in fibers and micronutrients and together with a decrease in physical activity which is often the result of urbanization and the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work and leisure. Changes to global diet (and physical activity patterns) are influenced by multiple sectors. As such, a whole of-UN and whole-of-government approach is imperative. The concept of “Food Systems and Food Environment,” which explains people’s dietary choices and nutritional status through a broader contextual analysis based on physical, economic, and socio-cultural conditions, is a key policy entry point for reversing current diet trends through a multi-sectoral approach.
The portion is taken from “United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition”
- United Nations Children’s Fund, World Health Organization, World Bank Group (2018). Levels and trends in child malnutrition: Key findings of the 2018 Edition of the Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates.