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easured as calories consumed,
the world has made progress
towards reducing hunger,
cutting the incidence by
a third in the past decade,
according to figures from the United Nations’
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
However, about 870 million people are facing
severe food deprivation on a daily basis.
That the world produces enough food to
eradicate hunger is not in doubt. But as wealthy
nations face an unprecedented food crisis of their
own—in the form of an obesity epidemic that
elevates the risk of developing diabetes, heart
disease and some cancers—the world has had
to reconsider how it reckons the consumption of
food and what constitutes a healthy diet.
What has emerged is the idea of ‘nutritional
security’. This idea recognises that in addition
to sufficient calories, a range of nutrients in the
right proportion is needed to maintain health,
with the optimum proportion varying during a
lifetime and in different circumstances.
Framed this way, it is not just nutrient
scarcity in the form of undernutrition in the
developing world that can cause health,
social and economic problems for people.
Overnutrition, in which nutrients are not scarce
but consumed in inappropriate amounts or
proportions, has joined undernutrition as a
pervasive global problem affecting millions of
people’s health and quality of life.
As such, variation in the nutritional value
of different foods is raised in importance and
with that comes the need to re-evaluate the
world’s food production, processing and
marketing systems. n
What is nutritional security?
nutritional security goes beyond advocating for
appropriate quantities of food. it also addresses
people’s need for an appropriate combination
of nutrients from their diet—combinations that
are required to sustain growth, health, healing
and an active life for all people at all stages of
development. health problems—and associated
social and economic effects—can arise from
both deficient and excessive consumption of
micronutrients and macronutrients.
macronutrients are the building blocks for growth,
needed in large proportions to provide energy
and to maintain and repair the body. They are:
minerals such as salt, calcium, magnesium and
micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals
needed in small-to-minute amounts. micronutrient
deficiencies are common and have long-ranging
effects on health, learning ability and productivity,
leading to high social and public costs, reduced
work capacity in populations due to high rates
of illness or disability and tragic loss of human
potential. The three most prevalent micronutrient
deficiencies in developing countries are:
iron deficiency—resulting in anaemia
iodine deficiency—resulting in brain damage
and mental retardation
vitamin a deficiency—resulting in blindness.
Effects on children
sTunTing: low height for age due to
inadequate nutrition over a long period.
195 million children under five years of age
90% live in asia and africa
underweighT: low weight for age indicating
either acute or chronic malnutrition.
129 million children under five years of age
27% live in asia and 21% in africa
wasTing: low weight for height usually due to a
recent nutritional deficiency.
26 million children under five years of age
5% are severely wasted
obesiTy: excess body fat in relation to lean
The proportion of children who are overweight
or obese has increased by about 60% in the 20
years to 2010, according to the world health
organization. The problem affects about a
quarter of all children in australia and more
than a third in the usa, but with the trend now
also evident in developing countries.
health effects include risk factors for
cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure
and glucose levels (pre-diabetes), bone and
joint problems, and sleep apnoea.
“Poor and vulnerable
populations need more resilience,
and a vital part of building
resilience involves boosting
food and nutrition security.”
– The 2013 Global Hunger Index report
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