Experts call for action on nutrition
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine are calling for a collective effort to beat the huge issue of undernutrition, to coincide with the high-level Nutrition for Growth event co-hosted by the UK and Brazilian governments in London on 8 June 2013.
According to a new study published in the Lancet and co-authored by the School’s Professor Ricardo Uauy, malnutrition is responsible for nearly half (45%) of all deaths in children under five – around 3.1 million deaths each year.
The study examined the different causes of maternal and childhood malnutrition and also analysed its consequences. The authors estimate that stunting (low height for age) affected at least 165 million children worldwide in 2011, over 50 million children were affected by wasting (low weight for height) and 100 million children were underweight (low weight for age) – all of which result in increased risk of death and illness for both pregnant women and children. More than 90% of these cases were in Asia or Africa.
Overall, the global prevalence of stunting has slowly decreased in the past twenty years, but rates are not falling quickly enough to meet global targets, and in Africa the number of children with stunting actually increased in the last decade.
The study also highlighted that undernutrition has far-reaching consequences beyond survival chances or body shape. Long term effects can include increased susceptibility to infectious disease, greater risk of high blood pressure and abdominal obesity leading to diabetes and hypertension, poorer school performance and lower wage rates, and major implications for social and economic development.
Professor Uauy said: “The emergence of this evidence, linking stunting and childhood malnutrition to adult onset chronic disease makes a strong case for action to address the so called ‘double burden of disease’ starting in early life.
“The greatest impact will be achieved if we start by providing optimal nutrition to women before they conceive, secure adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation, promote exclusive breast feeding for six months complemented with appropriate foods after this time and secure a diet that supports healthy growth and active living; taking the necessary actions to promote physical and mental health.
“The investment in nutrition and health in early life is key for national development, global equity, and physical and mental health for all. The time for action is now; we know what to do and how to do it.”
In an accompanying comment piece in the Lancet, Dr Alan Dangour and co-authors call for global collective action to end undernutrition.
“Everyone is part of the solution,” they write. “Governments need to lead; businesses need to identify how to improve nutrition through their business models and employment practice; civil society organisations need to help citizens to drive transparency and accountability; and the scientific community needs to keep us focused on evidence about what works. Policy commitments, capacity strengthening, and targeted financing are all essential.
“On June 8, 2013, the Nutrition for Growth high level event in London will help to secure a global response that will include financial, business, scientific, and political commitments matched to the scale of the challenge. Progress will be reviewed annually and again at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to act together to beat undernutrition.”
The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is among the institutions at the forefront of nutrition research and also provides world-class post graduate training.
In addition to its Nutrition for Global Health Master’s course, the School runs a free open-access distance learning module - Programming for Nutrition Outcomes, which is supported by the UK Department for International Development. This Master’s-level training module explores the complicated problem of undernutrition, highlights its multi-sectoral causes and identifies potential programmatic solutions. The popular module has already been downloaded over 10,000 times around the world since its launch in February 2013.
The School is also part of the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH), a collaboration of three Bloomsbury Colleges supported by the London International Development Centre (LIDC).
LCIRAH works to develop research approaches and methodologies that integrate agricultural and health research with a focus on international development goals. It focuses its research on how we can improve nutrition through agricultural interventions, such as the introduction of nutritious crop varieties, educational programmes or government policies that make healthy foods more affordable. Read LCIRAH's recent policy briefs on undernutrition.
- Robert E Black, Cesar G Victoria, Susan P Walker, Zulfiqar A Bhattu, Paul Christian, Mercedes de Onis, Majid Ezzati, Sally Grantham-McGregor, Joanne Katz, Reynaldo Martorell, Ricardo Uauy, the Maternal and Child Nutrition Study Group, Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low-income and middle-income countries, Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60937-X
- Anna Taylor, Alan Dangour, K Srinath Reddy, Only collective action will end undernutrition, Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61084-3
Image: A boy in Uganda carries a bowl stuffed with ears of corn on his head. Credit: Sarit Saliman, Courtesy of Photoshare.