Healthy Lives: Tackling the Dual Dilemma of Malnutrition – Silent Crisis
For the past 50 years WFP, as the world largest hunger relief organization, has worked to feed the hungry poor, particularly during times of crisis. Last year alone the organization fed nearly 100,000,000 people.
In 2008 worldwide high food prices coupled with the challenge of spiraling gasoline prices and trade restricting government food related policies particularly in rice exporting countries, combined to create a perfect storm …1,000,000,000 people without food….children going to bed and waking up…hungry…food riots in over 20 countries where bread suddenly became a luxury food.
World leaders gathered…investing in WFP, FAO, UNICEF, as well as our partners including Save the Children, and the International Red Cross to solve this global food crisis. The media including CNN, BBC and all manner of social media gave voice and face to the world’s hungry poor. But during this period we learned that there were tiny bodies without voices we could not hear. We learned that every year 170,000, 000 children would never reach their full physical or mental capacity…that they were and are stunted for life. Because these children do not receive essential micronutrients during that critical first 1,000 day window…from conception to 2 years of age… their development is irreversibly stunted… creating a lifelong list of physical and mental maladies including what some scientists estimate as a reduction on an average of 40 i.q. points. To this long overdue silent crisis the world has now begun to shine the light of awareness. Conferences are being held, ready to use micronutrient enriched supplementary foods are being developed, manufactured and distributed through the world’s hunger relief organizations, including WFP. In fact at the close of this year’s Olympics Prime Minister Cameron together with Brazil’s Vice President Michel Temer called many of us to 10 Downing Street for the kickoff of a global program that will reduce the 170,000, 000 chronically malnourished children by half before the lighting of Rio Olympic torch in 2016. And last week when global leaders gathered in New York for this year’s United Nations General Assembly many also joined in discussions addressing the issues of hunger and nutrition. Going even further…A new movement led by the United Nations entitled Scaling Up Nutrition or SUN…brings together networks of governments, civil society including private sector corporations, foundations, nonprofit organizations as well as individual citizens has joined together…to give voice and end this scourge of 170,000,000 chronically malnourished children, supporting the now 30 committed countries working to address this first 1,000 day window crisis.
But with all of this attention to hunger and undernutrition few voices rise up in response to address the even faster growing crisis…of what some term as “overnutriton”… the 1 billion overweight and the WHO estimated 300,000,000 suffering from obesity…including a WHO estimated 200,000,000 overweight and some 43,000,000 obese children under 5 years of age. Let me repeat: an estimated 43,000,000 obese children under the age of 5.
The even more startling challenge now is the now number of countries coping with the dual dilemma of malnutrition, both undernutrition and growing populations of overnutriton. Overnutrition-related cases of noncommunicable diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases are escalating in India, China, Mexico and South Africa. In fact between the years 2000 and 2002 Mexico, India and South Africa each reported an average adult energy intake of over 20% from a combination of sugar, fat and alcohol.
But of course obesity rates affect both developing and developed countries. While not limited solely by income, the causes and effects disproportionately affect lower socio-economic groups across the globe…the root cause is the same: diet and lifestyle that encourage the consumption of high value foods including processed foods high in carbohydrates and foods consumed outside the home together with reduced energy expenditures…in other words across the globe the poor are eating more sugar, saturated fats and animal meat products while moving less.
Why no loud outcry? Some would immediately draw the distinction between the poor who are hungry and malnourished because of the lack of access and or availability to nutritious food while the overweight and obese are making a choice…I must say as an American we often hear that all should be free to make their own healthy as well as unhealthy choices.
But for the poor in too many communities around the world is it really a choice? Is it really a choice when you’re one of the 43,000,000 obese children under 5 or you live in a community with inequitable access to health care, or when the only foods you can afford or access are sugary, processed and highly caloric? When it’s unsafe to play outside because of gangs, drugs, crime and conflict? And is it really a choice when you live in neighborhoods without playgrounds, gyms or other indoor spaces for physical exercise? Or when like my grandmother who picked cotton and cleaned houses most of her adult life the opportunity to spend your afternoon sitting in front of the television watching soap operas was deemed a well-earned luxury.
So what do we do?
We know the answers to this challenge of malnutrition both to the questions of undernutrition in the first 1,000 days including but not limited to:
Increased micronutrient consumption by pregnant and lactating women…Promote exclusive breastfeeding from birth to six months of age…Promote the introduction of complementary feeding at six months...Promote continued breastfeeding until two years of age or beyond…Promote age-appropriate complementary feeding.
We also know the answers for the problem of overnutrition:
Making nutritious food available and affordable particularly for children, pregnant and lactating women,
Providing education and information outreach about the benefits of eating a diverse, nutritiously balanced diet, to children, parents and child care workers;
Reducing children’s exposure to the vending and advertising of unhealthy foods, especially in schools;
Promoting community involvement to healthy eating at schools;
And let’s not forget promoting and facilitating age appropriate adequate physical activity…my 80-year-old mom recently joined a gym…getting there now every morning for her time with the girls where they still wear leotards and tights…getting in the exercise groove!
I’m sure many of you have heard or read about the U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative designed to eliminate childhood obesity in one generation. Let's Move! is about putting children on the path to a healthy future during their earliest months and years. Giving parents helpful information and fostering environments that support healthy choices. Providing healthier foods in our schools. Ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. And, helping kids become more physically active.
These are the answers we gathered in this room must embrace. This is the movement we must all give voice to…we can end malnutrition whether it’s an undernourished or overnourished child. It requires working together and not accepting the easy answers. The rewards are well worth the effort the opportunity for a healthier, more productive and happier life for our children and families. Because wherever live we are all one family, one human family. Thank you.