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One in three people suffers malnutrition at global cost of $3.5 trillion a year – UN

A farming family in Kyrgyzstan takes a break from the day's work to share a meal.
Sergey Kozmin
A farming family in Kyrgyzstan takes a break from the day's work to share a meal.

One in three people suffers malnutrition at global cost of $3.5 trillion a year – UN

As an United Nations international meeting on ways to improve diets and ensure sustainable food systems kicked off in Rome, Italy today, participants were told that one in three people on the planet suffers some form of malnutrition, impacting public health and economic development at an estimated cost of $3.5 trillion per year.

No country is immune from malnutrition – either undernutrition or overweight and obesity – whose “human, social, environmental and economic costs are overwhelming,” said the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, during his opening remarks at the International Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Diets and Improved Nutrition.

“Nutrition must be considered a public issue, a State responsibility,” he said, adding that “consumers must be empowered to choose healthy food and diets” through nutrition-sensitive social protection, nutrition education, and effective and accurate labelling and advertising.

According to a press release, the two-day event, co-organized by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO), examines country-level challenges and successes to shed light on effective approaches to reshaping food production, processing, marketing and retail systems to better tackle the problem of malnutrition, which blights the lives of billions of individuals and can trap generations in a vicious cycle of poverty and malnutrition.

Mr. Graziano da Silva pledged FAO’s support to help countries adopt a food systems approach to address all states of the food chain: from production and processing to marketing and consumption.

Speaking at two-day international symposium in Rome, FAO Director General, José Graziano da Silva, says that one in three people suffers from some form of malnutrition. Credit: UN News Centre

Governments should encourage diversification of agriculture, improved post-harvest management, facilitate market access for poor family farmers and guarantee food-safety, he added.

The FAO Director-General also announced that King Letsie III of Lesotho is FAO’s newest Special Ambassador for Nutrition.

Also addressing the symposium was Francesco Branca, the Director of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organization (WHO), who delivered remarks on behalf of the agency’s Director-General, Margaret Chan.

“Nutrition is a challenge for all countries. Whether it is stunting, wasting, anaemia or obesity, no country is exempt. With the sustainable development goals we are committed to end all forms of malnutrition by the year 2030,” in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Ms. Chan said in her message.

“With the great leadership of many Member States, the energy of civil society, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector we can collectively achieve in a short time dramatic change in food systems and the food environment, for the improvement of everybody's nutrition,” Ms. Chan added.

Over two billion people on the planet suffer from health-affecting micronutrient deficiencies, and an estimated 150 million children under 5 years of age are stunted due to poor diets. At the same time, 1.9 billion people are now overweight – 600 million of them are classified as obese.

This past April, the UN declared the start of an “International Decade on Nutrition” to follow through on commitments made at the second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in 2014 and meet the nutrition-related targets of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).