SEATTLE—The 2016 Global Nutrition Report was released on June 14. The report is “the only independent and comprehensive annual review of the state of the world’s nutrition.”
It is funded by a variety of charities (such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), as well as many governments including the U.K. Department for International Development, the Government of Canada, the European Commission, and the Government of Germany.
The 2016 Global Nutrition Report focuses especially on how widespread the problem of malnutrition is. Malnutrition can come in the form of undernutrition or obesity.
The report found that 44 percent of countries with data available experience “serious levels” of both undernutrition and obesity. In fact, malnutrition affects one in three people globally, and it is the leading driver of disease.
Overweight individuals whose blood contains too much sugar, salt, fat or cholesterol and underweight individuals who lack important vitamins and minerals are especially prone to infections and communicable diseases.
Unfortunately, malnutrition rates are rapidly rising in many parts of the world. Obesity and diabetes are two conditions tied to malnutrition that are becoming especially prevalent. One in twelve people globally have diabetes, and nearly two billion people are obese or overweight.
The Global Nutrition Report points out that these high malnutrition rates have serious and wide-reaching consequences. Unhealthy individuals put a strain on public health systems and are unable to effectively contribute to the economy.
This is particularly evidenced by the report’s estimates of annual GDP losses from low weight, poor child growth and micronutrient deficiencies, which average 11 percent in Asia and Africa.
The report also gives notable examples of the economic price of malnutrition in China and the United States. In China, diabetes results in an annual 16.3 percent loss of income for the patient. In the United States, households spend an average eight percent more of their annual income on healthcare for just a single obese person.
Because malnutrition is such a far-reaching problem, the Global Nutrition Report argues that governments should make proper nutrition a more substantial part of their domestic agendas.
Currently many governments spend over 30 percent of their budgets on development, but much of this should be invested in nutrition programs instead. Curbing malnutrition creates healthy workers, maintains a large consumer base and lightens the strain on healthcare systems. Thus, proper nutrition is a prerequisite to substantial developmental projects.
Investing in programs to combat malnutrition is also very cost-effective. The Global Nutrition Report estimates that “every $1 invested in proven nutrition programs offers benefits worth $16.”
Fortunately, the report also highlights a few bright spots. The number of stunted children under five years is declining in every part of the world except Africa and Oceania.
Individual countries have also shown substantial progress: stunting rates have been reduced from 36 to 19 percent in Ghana, Peru and Malawi are on track to meet global breastfeeding and anemia reduction targets and Brazil and India have been able to substantially reduce malnutrition rates.
However, the Global Nutrition Report argues that only concerted government action can seriously combat malnutrition around the world.
In the words of Lawrence Haddad, the Co-Chair of the report’s independent expert group: “The key ingredient to all of these success stories is political commitment… Where leaders in government, civil society, academia and business are committed… anything is possible. Despite the challenges, malnutrition is not inevitable—ultimately it is a political choice: one which we need leaders across the world to make.”
– Steffen Seitz