Malnutrition: The epidemic of the century
Ironically, obesity has a lot to do with things that cannot be reduced to excess fat in the body. The accumulation of fat goes beyond appearance. It is the result of an even greater problem: malnutrition.
The malnutrition epidemic is here and we lack tools to deal with it, experts say.
Malnutrition is not what we believe it to be. We may be used to seeing people in Africa, with little more than their bones and skin dressing them up, but malnutrition has another face: that of obese, swollen, sick people.
Being malnourished does not have a defined physical appearance. The malnourished can be fat, skinny and even people who are apparently physically well can suffer from malnutrition.
Malnutrition is an epidemic. Obesity grows throughout the world while there are still people starving or not receiving all the necessary nutrients to develop physically and cognitively.
Recent research focused on nutrition and global health focuses its work on sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Specifically, it analyzes malnutrition and tropical diseases; topics that are discussed more often than ever before.
In general, many people eat badly. Malnutrition affects all countries of the world, at all ages, regardless of social status.
Collecting information about what people eat is very expensive and difficult, but for more than 20 years we know that it is one of the fundamental factors of mortality and disease.
In certain contexts, such as food crises, the focus has been on the amount of food. But in developing countries experts also looked at the availability of food and not the variety.
“Malnutrition is not only caused by lack of food but by an excess of the artificial type, that fills supermarket aisles.”
There have been many policies to increase agricultural production, but then we realized that malnutrition crises did not improve, because, although there was greater access to a crop, there was no diversity in the diet that would improve the growth of children, for example.
In the world, there has been a sort of food transition: from a diet of self-sufficiency, with your crop and your animals near your house, to one of mass consumption.
This historical change has already taken place in Europe, but in developing countries, it has occurred faster. When self-sufficiency was abandoned, people immediately have so many ultra-processed and cheap foods at our disposal.
The epidemic is here and we still lack tools to fight it. It is not necessary to focus on the individual, it is a problem of the food system.
It is the industry, it is the production chain, it is advertising. It is a big challenge and I believe that right now we are not in a position to have a great change in this aspect.
“Good nutrition begins since a baby is born. Mothers already know that breastfeeding is best for their children. But they don’t have an environment that makes it easy for them to put it into practice.”
There are some tools available in the form of nutrition programs. More than 80% of countries have national nutrition policies with programs that we know work. Some of these countries are undeveloped, where solutions need more time.
The hard part is that there aren’t enough of those programs that are properly financed and implemented. The fight against malnutrition must be fought at all levels.
In the research, experts have discovered that mothers already know what is best for their children. But they don’t have an environment that makes it easy for them to put it into practice. If they have to return to work in the city or in the countryside it is impossible to secure the proper care and nutrition.
This is where regulation comes in. Another example: people know that it is healthier to make a vegetable lasagna at home, but if you go to the supermarket and it costs you cheaper to buy it already made and your schedule does not allow you time to cook it at home, people will just buy packaged food. It is not a matter of beliefs or habits, but of having possibilities.
What is studied is how many resources are dedicated to food. Then, studies show how food is distributed at home and many times it is women who consume the least nutrients.
Men, as the main providers of the home, are usually favored because they are the ones who go to work. Normally, he is given animal protein. It also benefits children, who are in full development.
A study conducted in a refugee camp in Somalia, concludes that when women make decisions about food, children are better fed.
On the one hand, they have made a political commitment. They have a child development program that depends directly on the president. The plans they develop include many fronts: agriculture, education, health…
Pro-family policies have improved a lot, for example, one of the indicators that have improved the most is breastfeeding. This has been greatly influenced by the empowerment of women in politics.