Ending malnutrition in the world is a key theme of the latest Global Nutrition Report, released today, the 14th of June 2016. The Report was produced by an independent group of experts and funded by a variety of sources including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and international development-focussed agencies. It is a stocktake of the state of nutrition around the world and a call to action to governments and those charged with improving the statistics.
The report makes sad and sobering reading, finding that around 44 per cent of countries in the world experience a serious level of malnutrition (which includes undernutrition as well as obesity). It highlights this as a huge problem because malnutrition and a poor diet causes nearly half of all deaths in children under 5, is a significant contributor to disease, and has a major impact on the economy and a person's ability to live a productive life.
The report’s Co-Chair Lawrence Haddad, a Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, summarised the report well when he said “One in three people suffer from some form of malnutrition… we now live in a world where being malnourished is the new normal…”
Like most children of the eighties deeply moved by the Ethiopian famine and the global movement to end hunger popularised by Band Aid, I am still surprised when I read that obesity is now as much a contributor to malnutrition as the lack of food. It seems that bad food is just as damaging to the world’s health as no food.
It is so important when we talk about access to food, that we talk about access to the right food. While the world applauds the rising economic wealth and increasing middle classes of Asia, statistics are also telling us that the number of overweight children under 5 is increasing most rapidly in Asia. As society urbanises and more families work, people are cooking less and reliance of processed, fast and convenience food is growing. Adults and their children are eating bad food, and levels of obesity are rising, with massive future health and economic consequences (the report provides the example that in China, if you are diagnosed with diabetes you will suffer a 16.3 per cent loss of income).
Investment in programs that support nutrition education around the world is so important. The report states “improved nutrition is the platform for progress in health, education, employment, female empowerment, and poverty and inequality reduction.”
Importantly, the report also reflects on the importance of women’s power, education and status in driving malnutrition. I have a great belief in empowering mothers to feed their children well, encouraging breastfeeding, teaching them to cook good food for those they love, so their children do not suffer from undernutrition or obesity, and can live long, productive lives free from disease.
Having signed up to be a voluntary ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, I enjoyed one of the program’s June challenges, which involved cooking a dish from a recipe on the World Food Programme’s Family Chef website. This website complements the WFP’s cash and vouchers for food programme, which gives women around the world the ability to buy the food they need to cook meals for their children.
Many of the recipes on the WFP website are from women that have fled homes and families in Syria and live in refugee camps in Turkey. For some, memories of the past are all they carried with them. How comforting it must be to be able to cook the food of long lost mothers and grandmothers for their own children, to pass it on.
I’d love to see, try and support more women contributing to this space, being empowered to cook and feed their families armed with knowledge and resources. Not only do mothers always want the best nutrition they can provide for their children, they are the carriers of so much cultural and family knowledge, stories that are transferred from one generation to another through the food we eat.
Take the time if you can to have a look at a few of these great websites, and share the stories: