Reports on Triple Threat of Malnutrition Show Increasing Hunger and Obesity Worldwide
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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The number of people suffering from hunger increased in 2016, for the first time, after ten-years of continuous decline.

Globally, one of every three people is malnourished today, and if nothing is done, half of the world could be malnourished by 2030.

If current trends continue, more children and adolescents will be obese than moderately or severely underweight by 2022.

11 October 2017: The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) High-level Panel of Experts (HLPE) launched a report titled, ‘Nutrition and food systems,’ calling for “radical transformations” of global food systems. The report was launched on the same day that the World Health Organization (WHO) and Imperial College London released a study showing a tenfold global increase in the number of obese children (aged five to 19 years) over the last forty years. The organizations launched the reports on the occasion of World Obesity Day, which coincided with the second day of the 44th session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS 44).

The reports follow a discussion held on 9 October, the opening day of CFS 44, which considered the Report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI 2017), which was released in September. SOFI 2017 shows that the number of people suffering from hunger increased in 2016, after ten-years of continuous decline. SOFI 2017 and a number of other reports also published in September attribute the recent surge in food crises to conflict and natural disasters. In April, the UN estimated that some 20 million people were at risk of starvation across South Sudan, Somalia, north-eastern Nigeria and Yemen, driven mostly by climate-related disasters and social unrest.

According to the HLPE’s findings, hunger is but one kind of malnourishment, which can also take the form of micronutrient deficiencies and obesity/overweight. The report calls for “radical transformations” of global food systems to address this “triple burden” of malnutrition, which it explains affects both rich and poor countries. The research shows that, with overweight and obesity a problem for high-income countries and increasing in low- and middle-income countries, “hunger and malnutrition will not be self-corrected only by economic growth, as many people thought in the past.”

“Hunger and malnutrition will not be self-corrected only by economic growth, as many people thought in the past.”

In its Foreward, the HLPE report states that, “globally, one person in three is malnourished today and one in two could be malnourished by 2030 if nothing is done.” This stands in contrast to the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goal on zero hunger, which calls for ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition in this same time frame. To address the challenge, the report calls for, inter alia, improved access to healthy and sustainable diets and more education and consumer information to enable healthier food choices. It concludes that people’s choices, which can influence production and consumption, “can also influence food systems and improve their ability to deliver healthy and sustainable diets.” [Nutrition and Food Systems]

The WHO- Imperial College London report titled, ‘Worldwide trends in body-mass index, underweight, overweight, and obesity from 1975 to 2016,’ deepens the analysis of these issues. It concludes that “more children and adolescents will be obese than moderately or severely underweight by 2022.” It corroborates what UN agencies have recently reported with regard to over-nutrition trends in Latin America, South-east Asia, Europe and in urban centers. The report’s authors point out, however, that moderately or severely underweight children and adolescents, (in 2016 this was 75 million girls and 117 million boys) remain a major public health challenge, especially in the poorest parts of the world. [Worldwide trends in body-mass index, underweight, overweight, and obesity from 1975 to 2016]

In conjunction with its research, the WHO published a summary of the ‘Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) Implementation Plan.’ The agency also announced the establishment of a high-level global commission on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), many of which are related to obesity/overweight. The UN estimates that NCDs like cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes and respiratory disease kill about 40 million people globally each year, accounting for 70% of all deaths. [WHO Press Release] [UN Press Release on WHO Report] [UN Press Release on NCD Commission] [IISD RS Coverage of CFS 44]


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