Rising food insecurity is emerging as a global issue of social cum public health concern that needs serious attention and redressal. Food is one of the most essential requirements for the sustenance of human life. The World Food Day was observed on 16th of October -- highlighting and emphasizing on the millions of people worldwide who couldn't afford a healthy diet and fulfill the need for regular access to nutritious food.
The developmental, economic, social, and medical impacts of the global burden of food insecurity are serious and lasting for individuals, families, communities and countries. Having said, unhealthy diets and poor nutrition are among the top risk factors for diet-related non-communicable diseaes including cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, and diabetes.
One of the important consequences of rising food insecurity is the development of malnutrition in general and undernutrition in particular - in all its forms (including wasting, stunting, underweight, inadequacy/deficiency of vitamins and minerals).
As per World Health Organization(WHO) data of year 2020, globally around 149 million children under 5 years of age were estimated to be stunted (too short for age), 45 million were estimated to be wasted (too thin for height), with around 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age - linked to undernutrition. Childhood overweight and obesity that attribute to other forms of malnutrition are also on rise.
While every country in the world is affected by one or more forms of malnutrition - the major impact is found to occur in middle and low income countries. As a result, combating malnutrition in all its forms is becoming one of the serious global health challenge. Undernutrition makes children in particular much more vulnerable to disease and death.
Broadly understanding the forms of undernutrition - wasting, which means low weight-for-height. It usually indicates recent and severe weight loss, because a person has not had enough food to eat and/or they have had an infectious disease, such as diarrhoea, which has caused them to lose weight. A young child who is moderately or severely wasted has an increased risk of death, but treatment is possible.
Low height-for-age is known as stunting. It is the result of chronic or recurrent undernutrition, usually associated with poor socioeconomic conditions, poor maternal health and nutrition, frequent illness, and/or inappropriate infant and young child feeding and care in early life. Stunting holds children back from reaching their physical and cognitive potential.
Low weight-for-age is known as underweight. A child who is underweight may be stunted, wasted, or both. Moreover, micronutrient-related malnutrition can occur due to inadequacies in intake of vitamins and minerals often referred to as micronutrients. Micronutrients enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones, and other substances that are essential for proper growth and development - their deficiency represents a major threat to the health and development of populations, particularly children and pregnant women.
Generally speaking, all age groups are at risk of malnutrition -- women, infants, children, and adolescents. Poverty amplifies the risk - people who are poor are more likely to be affected by different forms of malnutrition. Moreover, malnutrition increases health care costs, reduces productivity, and slows economic growth, which can accentuate a cycle of poverty and ill-health.
To combat this emerging global health challenge of malnutrition, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in the year 2016, proclaimed 2016 to 2025 as "United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition". Led by WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Decade can provide as a great opportunity for addressing all forms of malnutrition.
The Decade sets a timeline to meet a set of global nutrition targets and diet-related NCD targets by 2025, as well as relevant targets in the Agenda for Sustainable Development by 2030 - Sustainable Development Goals like SDG 2 (to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture) and SDG 3 (to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages).
Moreover, it promises to take steps for creating sustainable, resilient food systems for healthy diets; providing social protection and nutrition-related education for all; aligning health systems to nutrition needs, and providing universal coverage of essential nutrition interventions; ensuring that trade and investment policies improve nutrition; building safe and supportive environments for nutrition at all ages; and strengthening and promoting nutrition governance and accountability everywhere.
(The Author is a medical doctor, public speaker and columnist. He can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org)