LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The social and economic cost of malnutrition is huge, equalling as much as five percent of global GDP, and governments worldwide should renew efforts to eradicate it, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said on Tuesday.
Although some progress has been made in fighting hunger, a form of malnutrition, there is still "a long way ahead," FAO Executive Director Graziano da Silva said in a statement to mark the release of the organization's annual report.
"The FAO's message is that we must strive for nothing less than the eradication of hunger and malnutrition", he said.
Some 870 million people worldwide go to bed hungry, but billions are suffering from one or more forms of malnutrition, the report said. Malnutrition during the critical ‘first 1,000 days' from conception can cause lasting damage to women's health and life-long physical and cognitive impairment in children.
The term malnutrition covers a range of conditions caused by inadequate or unbalanced food intake or poor absorption of nutrients, the FAO says.
Child and maternal malnutrition have been nearly halved in the past two decades, but still have considerably higher social and economic costs, especially in low-income countries, than those associated with overweight and obesity, which are on the rise, according to the report.
To fight malnutrition effectively, policy-makers should adopt a multi-sector approach which encompasses health care, education and gender-inclusive policies as well as agriculture, because producing more food more efficiently remains essential for improving nutrition, the FAO said.
In the report, the FAO made a series of recommendations that include:
- Use appropriate agricultural policies, investment and research to increase yields, not only of staple grains like maize, rice and wheat, but also of legumes, meat, milk, vegetables and fruit, which are all rich in nutrients.
- Cut food losses and waste, which currently amount to one third of the food produced for human consumption every year. That could help make food more available and affordable as well as reduce pressure on land and other resources.
- Improve the nutritional performance of food supply chains, making a wider range of food available and accessible. Properly organized food systems are the key to more diversified and healthy diets.
- Help consumers make good dietary choices and improve their nutrition through education, information and other actions.
- Improve the nutritional quality of foods through fortification and reformulation.
- Make food systems more responsive to the needs of mothers and young children.