Hunger and obesity: The world of the malnourished
What would you say if I told you that a huge arsenal of nutritious food is needed to help annihilate the great beast in the 21st century: hunger?
Today, hunger still condemns the lives of 821.6 million people.
One in nine goes to bed without having eaten the minimum calories for their daily activity, as revealed in the latest report “The State of Food Safety and Nutrition in the World,” presented in New York by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
It is a number of people that, far from diminishing with the passage of time, increases for the third consecutive year with 10 million more than the updated data of the previous year. It is important to note that the number of hungry people increases on a planet that loses or wastes a third of the food produced for human consumption.
It also says that there are 149 million children under five years of age with stunted growth, a figure that reveals an insufficient decrease of 10% in the last six years.
On the other hand, obesity increases in all regions of the world and reaches the number of hungry leaving a scale of malnourished people that is even more unbalanced if we add people who are overweight. This number grows in the group of school-age children and adults.
In 2018, approximately 40 million children under the age of five were overweight and adults with this condition exceeded 2,000 billion.
The challenge is served, eating is not the same as being fed and the links between hunger and obesity are becoming narrower. They are not contradictory problems.
Hunger and food insecurity can lead to obesity.
This indicator reflects those people with irregular access to the quantity and quality of food required for healthy nutrition.
According to the calculations of the organization, there would be 1,3 billion people with moderate food insecurity, which if added to the 704 million who suffer this type of instability in its most severe way, would have more than 2 billion people, more than a quarter of the world’s population, who do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food.
In all continents the prevalence is “slightly higher” in women than in men, and 8% of the world’s population that suffers from food insecurity is located in North America and Europe, where no relevant hunger data are recorded.
“There may be families who are eating fried chicken all day and are not hungry, but it does not satisfy the nutritional supplements that are required,” says the report.
The exposed balance keeps humanity from reaching a well-nourished world and eradicating hunger by 2030.
The director general of the FAO, José Graziano da Silva, regretted this data during the presentation of the report on Monday in New York, and has estimated that the number of obese people should be around 830 million this year compared to 822 in 2016.
He was also surprised by the new data that reveals that 2 billion people suffer from moderate and severe food insecurity.
“They are large numbers, more than twice the number of hungry people feel this insecurity,” he said. But not all is lost, every time there are more clues to eradicate malnutrition and hunger. The solution points in one direction: the human will.
Hunger is hidden where the violence of men is stoked, leaving millions of starving people in countries like Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan or Yemen.
Africa continues as the region with the highest prevalence of hunger, with almost 20% of the total. And specifically, in sub-Saharan Africa, where the greatest drama is concentrated, there are 239 million people who face a daily struggle to get at least one of three meals.
“Most of the crises are in Africa, a continent highly affected by drought. It shows elements that we have studied in detail during the last three years.
This report, carried out in collaboration with four other UN agencies, aims to provide more clues with a detailed analysis that links hunger and the economy.
“About 84% of the countries that experienced an increase in malnutrition between 2011 and 2017 simultaneously suffered a deceleration or recession, the majority of middle incomes,” the study concludes, which also concludes that in 65 countries in which they have suffered recently these economic trends, up to 52 need to import and export food, which makes them very dependent.
“In these situations, less employment is generated, wages fall and this has an effect on the malnutrition of the most vulnerable.
Another question is when not only the purchasing power of the people falls, but also that of the governments, which have less means to pay for basic social services.
It is in the governments where a large part of the responsibility is concentrated to balance this situation.
The pursuit of peace already occupies international political agendas.
“We are very concerned about the growth of excess weight in children and insufficient programs to treat malnutrition.
Children do not have a safe and healthy food environment, and you do not have to look at nutrition as a technical issue, political commitment is needed to improve food systems.
The report of Agricultural Perspectives 2019-2028 presented and signed between the FAO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) already contemplated that the new regulations against the increase of obesity, trade disagreements and pests will condition the agricultural sector in the next decade.
“Political commitment against obesity is essential, and could be similar to the one that was exercised in the fight against tobacco,” says Francisco Tinahones, president of the Spanish Society of Obesity, who highlights the importance of considering hunger and malnutrition as a social problem.
Sometimes, to kill that hunger bug, people ingest the cheapest and most common food for the family, or what tastes sweeter or more salty, or what is fashionable, or what comes wrapped in flashy papers of many colors, or what is advertised by a popular personality, or what is faster to cook.
Advertising, the strength of large multinationals, the laxity of public policies to regulate ultra-processed products, and the lack of promotion of fresh food consumption and physical activity transcend the individual.
According to FAO, obesity contributes to some four million deaths worldwide. Other estimates, such as those of The Lancet, raise the number of the relationship between poor eating and deaths by up to 11 million.
The United States leads the number of adults with obesity: 37.3 million in 2016 compared to 34.7 in 2012. But it is also an upward trend in Latin America and the Caribbean, where there were 104.8 million adults in 2016 compared to 88.3 that were in 2012.
More attention is given to urban areas than rural ones, where studies show that higher rates of obesity are concentrated. But packaged meals and flashy, colorful drinks sneak into even the most remote areas.
Ultra-processed products are one of the greatest threats in his region. Packaged products are cheaper, faster to cook or eat, and people buy them, instead of taking fresh produce and encouraging local food diversity.