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Malnutrition, a Problem the World Over

Breastfeeding
Almost every country has some form of malnutrition deficit, including the United States, says a new report. To reduce malnutrition rates globally, the World Health Assembly recommends exclusive breastfeeding of infants, among other steps.

A new report on global nutrition levels has found that malnutrition affects every country in the world except two, and that countries are facing more complex, overlapping forms of malnutrition that require more attention.

The two exceptional countries, China and South Korea, made the data cutoff rates for levels of anemia, obesity and stunting — all forms of malnutrition. But both countries’ anemia rates fall just below the threshold, and China’s large population — with 25 percent of people overweight — “represent serious national and global burdens,” the report notes.

The report, the first of its kind by the International Food Policy Research Institute, a Washington nonprofit group, classifies malnutrition as under-age-5 stunting, anemia in women of reproductive age and overweight adults. Fewer than 20 countries experience only one of these variations of malnutrition, and the report suggests that disaggregated analyses of the various nutrition outcomes are important to pursue. Further accountability on nutrition is also suggested, and civil society groups and national evaluation platforms should be assessed and implemented.

The 2014 Global Nutrition Report provides case studies examining the Indian state of Maharashtra; Brazil’s efforts to reduce child stunting; nutrition reforms in Guatemala; and malnutrition in the United States. The report concludes, however, that most of the world is not on track to meet the global nutrition targets set in 2010 by the World Health Assembly, the executive body of the World Health Organization. A sustained campaign for nutrition is desperately needed, and the report recommends that this should be included in the Sustainable Development Goal objectives being composed by the United Nations for 2015 to 2030.

The report notes that only 60 percent of the 193 UN member countries have the data to assess whether their contribution levels are on or off course to meet the global World Health Assembly targets.

The targets include reducing child stunting by 40 percent, reducing anemia in women of reproductive age by 50 percent, reducing low birth weight by 30 percent, preventing an increase in rates of children who are overweight, increasing exclusive breastfeeding of infants by at least 50 percent and reducing and maintaining child wasting (a low weight-for-height ratio) at less than 5 percent.

Colombia, with the highest positive ranking, is on course to meeting four targets, while other countries, including Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Iraq and Pakistan, are not meeting any of the targets. Unicef, the World Health Organization and the World Bank have not finalized rules for measuring country-by-country improvement on low birth weight and exclusive breastfeeding, whereas the other four targets (stunting, anemia, overweightness and wasting) have universally agreed-upon rules.

On the key issue of donor spending, as of 2012, the US, the European Union, Canada and Britain have committed the most resources to nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive categories. In addition, the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, a British charity, have together contributed over $1 million. The report argues for an increase in nutrition-sensitive spending, given the large amount of national budget allocations for agriculture, social protection, health and education.

In addition, the International Food Policy Research Institute has issued a new report on the need for more research and development in African agriculture. It found that most sub-Saharan countries need to double their investment in such areas. Spending in these investments has increased on the continent since 2000, but most countries are not on track to meet both UN and African Union targets, the report says.

Alexander Brotman is the Joseph S. Nye Jr. External Relations Intern with the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. He has a B.A. in film studies and media and communications from Muhlenberg College. He has worked for State Representative Alice Peisch of Massachusetts, Africa Center in Dublin, Harvard School of Public Health and Amnesty International.

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