The Lancet: 'Undernutrition cripples global economic growth and development'

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition Obesity

“We are in a race against time to eradicate the global scourge of undernutrition”
“We are in a race against time to eradicate the global scourge of undernutrition”
Undernutrition causes the deaths of 3m children each year and retards developing world economic growth, commentators have said in The Lancet.

They highlighted Brazil as an example of effective action to raise nutrition levels and boost local economies in a series of articles published on the subject in the journal this week.

“Brazil's remarkable experience during the past 20 years shows us that the right programmes need to be matched with strong political leadership and determination,” ​they said.

“Brazil's success resulted from a whole-government response, a clear focus on groups at greatest risk, strong civil society engagement, and investments to track progress and use data to strengthen accountability and inform policy choices.”

Globally much more needed to be done.

“We are in a race against time to eradicate the global scourge of undernutrition,”​ wrote Anna Taylor, Alan Dangour and K Srinath Reddy in a commentary called ‘Only collective action will end undernutrition’.

“Undernutrition cripples global economic growth and development, and future global prosperity and security are intimately linked with our ability to respond adequately to this urgent challenge.”

Research has shown more than 10% of economic productivity is lost in Asia and Africa due to the consequences of undernutrition.

“The evidence provided in this Series should act as a turning point to galvanise global action,”​ they wrote.  

“The solution lies largely in the early years of life, when the foundations for human potential are laid—getting the right nutrients at the right time prevents undernutrition. The result is heightened educational attainment, adult wages, and economic productivity.”

Women and girls

“Women and girls are at the heart of this message. As the bearers and carers of children, their health and economic potential is entwined with that of future generations. Unless girls grow well in early childhood and adolescence and enter into motherhood well nourished, are lent support during pregnancy, protected from heavy physical labour, and empowered to breastfeed and provide good food for their babies and toddlers, the intergenerational cycle of undernutrition will not be broken.”

“This Series shows that poor maternal nutrition at conception and during pregnancy is a major contributor to undernutrition in childhood. Empowering women to make the right choices for their health, and that of their children, is crucial to solving this challenge.”

They said urbanisation and sedentary lifestyles were creating obesity and overweight problems with associated rises in diabetes, even among children.

“This Series shows that there are simple and proven interventions that can substantially reduce undernutrition and mortality in children. Many of these interventions deliver an excellent return on investment and should be delivered at scale without delay. However, making a lasting effect on the root causes of undernutrition will need more effort.”

A summary of The Lancet​ material can be found here.

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