Obesity and Malnutrition
In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight, and more than 600 million of these adults were obese. While we may often associate the epidemic of obesity with the developed countries, it has spread to the developing world as well.

There is a “double burden” of obesity and malnutrition in developing countries. Food that lacks important nutrients but is high in carbohydrates and sugars has become widely available in the developing world for a very low cost. Families that may not have a lot of money often resort to these food options.

This burden of both obesity and malnutrition is particularly evident in urban areas of poverty-stricken countries. The subsidization of agriculture in combination with multinational companies has made the production of foods with refined fats, oils, and carbohydrates cheap and widely accessible. Furthermore, more than 50 percent of low-income countries lack recommendations for food and beverage consumption.

In March 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a guideline for sugar intake. While this is a step in the right direction, there is still more work to be done.

Potential solutions include taxations of high sugar content products, restrictions in marketing these products, and food industry regulations.

It is essential that the developing world does not repeat our mistakes. More importantly, it is not acceptable for developed countries to supply cheap, low-quality food simply for profit. There is a global accountability and responsibility that accompanies the rise in globalization.

Iliana Lang

Sources: NIH, The Lancet, Oxford Journals, Food Navigator

Photo: Flickr

Malthusianism Theories on Poverty and Aid
Thomas Malthus was a clergyman and philosopher of the late 18th century. His ideas on the causes of poverty and the means by which it could be eliminated were controversial for his time and would probably have been unspeakable in ours. However, his work shaped England’s “Poor Laws,” influenced scientists and philosophers such as Charles Darwin, and remains pertinent today.

Malthus believed that the population would always increase more rapidly than food supply, which meant that large numbers of people would always suffer from starvation and poverty. His calculations demonstrated that while food supply grew at a linear rate, populations tended to grow at an exponential one.

The inspiration behind his ideas came from his work as a parish priest, where he noticed that the numbers of poor people he was baptizing far outstripped the number of deaths he was recording. As a member of a wealthy family himself, he was also struck by the abject poverty and miserable conditions the poor were living in. At the time, almost a seventh of England was on some sort of welfare, but its population was booming.

Carrying out more studies on England’s poor gave Malthus a clearer picture of the problem. Poor families showed a tendency to have more children when their economic situation improved, even slightly, as it had after the industrial revolution. This had the effect of again lowering the average living standard of the entire family.

In this sort of poverty trap, the poor would remain unable to escape their condition. A poor family was also generally more likely to have a greater of number of children because some were always expected to die in their infancy. The solution, Malthus stated, was to encourage the poor to marry later and have fewer children, if any at all. By having children, they would be sentencing more people to live in poverty and starvation.

The way to encourage the poor to adopt this solution would be to eliminate all types of aid. While this would initially be very hard and even cruel, it would eliminate poverty and dismantle the poverty trap in the long run.

What welfare did, Malthus believed, was encourage the poor to marry earlier even when they could not support a family and have children they could not afford. The effect of this was that families continued to be poor and live on the very barest of necessities. England’s Poor Laws, which propped up people who suffered from bad harvests, was creating the very poverty it hoped to eliminate.

Once these practices were taken up, food supply could finally keep up with the lowered population growth. If food supply could not keep up, Malthus believed that three necessary and inevitable things would take place: plague, famine and war. These would once again balance out the population, but at a much greater cost.

Critics have generally attacked Malthusianism from two different angles. One side believes that a small population is not good for a country. The Mercantalists argue that high population growth, even if it results in poverty, is good for the country. It would provide it with people to fight in the army, work in factories and provide cheap services.

Mercantalists did not want the population to earn very high wages or live far above the poverty line—this would stagnate economic growth and weaken the nation. Modern anti-Malthusians also believe that low birth rates are bad for the economy because the workforce would not be able to support its older population.

Other critics of Malthusianism believe that his proposed solutions are not the best way to tackle poverty. They are needlessly inhumane. Human ingenuity can come with with solutions to expand food supply to meet population needs. Norman Borlaug, the mind behind the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, is cited as an example. He created strains of corn and wheat that had much higher yields than before, saving millions from starvation.

Neo-Malthusians, as modern proponents of Malthus are called, say the current statistics speak for themselves. Populations in almost every developing country are growing rapidly as they become wealthier and advancements in medicine keep more children and older people alive. In the last 110 years, the world’s population has grown from 1.6 billion to 7.2 billion.

But 805 million worldwide go to bed hungry, and most are from developing countries. A fourth of people in Sub-Saharan Africa are chronically malnourished. More than 750 million lack access to clean water, which leads to 850,000 deaths per year. In major cities, such as Mumbai, half the population are living in wretched and slum-like conditions. In Sub-Saharan Africa, this number reached 61 percent. Most poor people continue to have more children than they can afford to take care of.

While the poor continue to have high fertility rates, they will continue to be poor. Neo-Malthusians advocate for better family planning, a change in societal expectations and norms, greater access to contraceptives and more education about conception to reduce the poor’s fertility rates.

Radhika Singh

Sources: Orion Magazine, Population Connection, Economist, BBC
Photo: Flickr

Interview With Anthropologist on Malnutrition in Kenya
In Kenya, over 1.5 million people are facing food shortages and high levels of malnutrition. Most of these people live in the rural areas, particularly in northern Kenya. The fact that these people are so far away from the more industrialized areas of Nairobi and Mombasa means that they are both more difficult to reach, and easier for a country to ignore. Some people live away from areas that are accessible by any sort of road and many people are only reachable by dirt roads, which are often treacherous.

When some people are reached the food is often things such as beans and corn, which do not offer all of the nutrients that people need.

To find out more, I talked to anthropologist Professor Jon Holtzman about his research regarding nutrition in Northern Kenya.

Q: What nutritional research have you done in Kenya?

A: I studied the Samburu in Nothern Kenya. They are pastoralists. They traditionally rely on their herds.

Q: What did you find in the gender differences in nutrition?

A: Both men and women were less well off as they aged, but men tended to be more adversely affected by aging. They tended to get more malnourished as they aged.

Q: Why do you think these differences occur?

A: There’re generally food shortages among the Samburu and although men have more political power, women control the distribution of food in the house. The food is sometimes scarce.

Q: How has the rising population changed the nutrition of the Samburu?

A: They no longer have enough cows to rely on the products of their herds, particularly milk. In 1950 there were probably about 50,000 Samburu and they had about 350,000 cows, so each person could get enough milk. Now there are about 200,000 Samburu and about 200,000 cows, so it isn’t possible to get enough milk. They just sell livestock to buy things like maize meal, which aren’t very nutritious and are low in key nutrients, such as protein.

Q: How is this affecting the health of the Samburu?

A: Generally they are very thin, and their growth rate is reduced. They are very vulnerable to diseases associated with poor nutrition, such as tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.

Q: What sort of assistance would be best to help this population?

A: It isn’t an easy problem to solve. More support for health care and programs that bring new and sustainable economic activities to remote areas could be the best hope.

Groups like UNICEF and USAID are doing work to try to help people with low access to nutritious foods and potable water. But without the necessary funding, there is only so much that can be done.

Clare Holtzman

Sources: UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

public_breastfeeding_areas_in_india
Health experts and activists are calling for the government in the Indian state of Assam to create public breastfeeding areas in India.

Assam, a state in northeast India, has a bad record when it comes to maternal and infant mortality rates.

With Aug. 1-7 being World Breastfeeding Week, the spotlight has shifted to Assam, where there are no public facilities available for women to breastfeed. As a result, mothers who are lactating often have a difficult time comfortably attending to their infants.

The difficulty is greater for mothers in rural areas, where malnutrition rates in infants are higher. Additionally, mothers who are working do not have the ability to meet their babies’ needs in a timely matter.

To avoid malnutrition, the need for public breastfeeding areas in India, specifically Assam, is high. Creating designated areas, such as in buses and railway stations, would help avoid malnutrition.

Those engaged in World Breastfeeding Week are also asking for uniformity when it comes to maternity leave. Organizations such as the Association of Promotion of Child Nutrition (APCN) and Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) are calling on the state government to implement consistent leave in both the public and private sectors for working mothers.

Currently, women working in the public sector are granted a leave of six months, but most are unaware they can take a leave to care for their babies, as the parameter is not implemented uniformly in the sector.

While women are granted a leave of between three and four and a half months in the private sector, most workplaces in the public and private sectors lack the proper facilities to allow women to breastfeed, leading to problems for mothers.

Matt Wotus

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, The Times of India, World Breastfeeding Week
Photo: Healthy Newborn Network

soya

Malnutrition, an ugly consequence of poverty. runs rampant in developing countries. In Afghanistan, the World Food Programme (WFP) is introducing a source of protein less known there. Soya could help stop hunger in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Malnutrition is defined as the lack of proper nutrition, caused by not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things or being unable to use the food that one does eat. Malnutrition is commonly due to the absence of quality food available to eat and is often related to high food prices and poverty. A lack of breast feeding may contribute, as may a number of infectious diseases such as gastroenteritis, pneumonia, malaria and measles, which increase nutrient requirements.

There are two main types of undernutrition: protein-energy malnutrition and dietary deficiencies. Protein-energy malnutrition has two severe forms, marasmus (a lack of protein and calories) and kwashiorkor (a lack of just protein), both of which can be fatal without quick intervention and care.

Soya has been widely used in China for centuries and was even considered one of the five holy crops along with rice, wheat, barley and millet. Soya is very versatile in diets and very healthy, with a high level of complete protein, which means that they contain significant amounts of all nine essential amino acids.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed that foods containing soy protein may also reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Soya is fairly inexpensive. It’s much cheaper than meat or other protein rich vegetables, making it a perfect fit to deliver a protein punch to a poverty-stricken nation such as Afghanistan.

Rates of malnutrition in Afghanistan are incredibly high. More than 40% of children under the age of five are chronically malnourished; nearly 10% of children and 9% of women of reproductive age are acutely malnourished, and almost one-fourth of children are underweight.

Soya, with all its health benefits, was virtually non-existent in Afghanistan and very few people knew of its value. The WFP saw soya as a possible answer to the malnutrition poisoning the country and began establishing it in 2014.

According to the WFP, more than 8,000 Afghan farmers were trained in how to grow the protein-rich bean, with over 84 metric tons of seed handed out to farmers. Six factories have now been established in different parts of the country, and several types of soya products are now available in the Afghan markets. The WFP in partnership with Nutrition Education International is teaching communities in Afghanistan to familiarize themselves with soya and several public awareness workshops have been established and are being attended by thousands of people.

Afghanistan is unquestionably one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the world, and malnutrition is a genuine danger effecting the lives of its people. Efforts by the WFP and the introduction of soya with its nutritional benefits could certainly be instrumental in relief for a population plagued by years of war and poverty.

Jason Zimmerman

Sources: WFP, Food and Development (Young)
Photo:
Flickr

World Hunger Solutions
Anemia is one of the most common manifestations of undernutrition in the world today. According to the World Health Organization, it affects almost two million people worldwide- a staggering 30 percent of the world’s population.

Anemia is the deficiency of red blood cells in the body, and may be caused by a number of reasons. The consequences of anemia can range from fatigue to cognitive and physical disabilities. In developing countries, anemia is one of the biggest contributors to maternal deaths.

The most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency. Iron as a trace metal is vital in the manufacture of hemoglobin for the body. In many areas however, the intake of iron is fairly limited due to patterns of diet in the particular region.

Bio-fortification is the method of changing the nutritional value of certain plant products, either to make the nutrients higher in content or to increase their bio-availability to the body. The process can either utilize breeding plant varieties naturally, which is a longer and less effective procedure, or genetic modifications can be used in the laboratory to yield faster, better results.

In recent years, the focus of bio-technologists has been to increase the iron content of crops such as rice, wheat and beans, which are a staple food in many parts of the world. People in resource-poor countries are especially reliant on cereal based diets, which typically contain very low iron quantities.

One of the most commonly used and promising techniques used for these purposes is genetic engineering. The objective of these approaches is to increase the uptake of minerals, such as iron, from the soil by the plant. This uptake is done either directly through the soil, or through chelating agents which bind to the mineral elements and facilitate their transport within the cellular structure of the plant.

To increase this uptake and transport of minerals from the soil to the plant, the chelating agent has to be genetically over-expressed. Various studies have tested out different ways to achieve this end, which include enhancing the promoter that transcribes the gene, as well as silencing certain genes by using RNA (ribonucleic acid) interference.

The plant organism resultant of these modifications has been shown to contain higher quantities of essential nutrients, with iron content in rice samples shown to be doubled or even tripled. The agricultural yield of the crops was also not affected due to the modifications.

The advantage of using genetic modification to biologically fortify crops is that it is both cost and time effective. The cost of propagating lines of genetically modified crops is less expensive than using nutritional supplements for undernourishment. Genetically modified crops also have a much higher potential for reaching remote populations.

Another advantage of this method is its diversity of application. This process can be applied to many different minerals. As of now, researchers are experimenting on increasing zinc and selenium amounts in crops as well. The genome of the plant can accommodate man different changes, so these modifications need not be mutually exclusive. The transgenic approach is also environmentally sustainable.

The challenges facing bio-fortified crops is that their effect is somewhat uncertain. Recent studies done on beans have shown that iron fortification without reducing the chemical that inhibits its uptake can lead to reduced absorption of the nutrient. Additionally, the genetically engineered approach needs to be so that the effects are not genotype-specific, but rather perpetually and uniformly expressed in the crop.

Despite these challenges, bio-fortified crops offer a creative, sustainable and far-reaching solution to undernourishment.

– Atifah Safi

Sources: National Center for Biotechnology Information, T and F Online,World Health Oranization, Journal of Nutrition, Science Direct, Journal of Experimental Botony

Malnutrition-and-Pregnancy-Global-Poverty

Malnutrition is a significant problem in developing countries. Without substantial resources, many men, women and children go to bed hungry. Tackling malnutrition should be a priority for everyone, especially pregnant women.

A woman’s nutritional intake impacts both her health during pregnancy and the health of her baby. Without proper care, she is susceptible to illnesses and her baby’s health is at risk. Malnutrition during pregnancy can cause devastating results.

In many countries, tradition forces women to be the last to eat at meals, which may result in them receiving smaller portions. This notion severely impacts pregnant women.

A woman that is undernourished at the time of conception is at risk of serious health issues for both herself and her baby. Not only is it unlikely that her nutritional status will improve throughout the pregnancy, but her body also experiences additional demands due to the growing baby. Without enough food, she will most likely lose weight, which increases the risk of maternal mortality.

When her body is unable to obtain or store enough nutrients required to support embryo growth, the cells may not divide properly, resulting in a chance that the fetus’ development will be impaired. The placental cells, which support the fetus’ growth during pregnancy, are more likely to surround the fetus in large numbers, forcing the fetus to become smaller than it should be. This leads to the baby being born at a low birth weight, which in turn often leads to severe cognitive and developmental deficits.

A baby’s organs develop during the first five weeks of pregnancy. In order for the organs to grow properly, it is imperative for women to be healthy and have food supplies readily available.

A woman’s caloric needs increase with pregnancy. An additional 150 calories per day is needed to support the baby in the first three months of the pregnancy. In month four, the additional calories needed increase to 300 per day.

In addition, women must have the proper nutrients in their diet, such as foods with folic acid, iron calcium, protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and vitamin A. According to the World Food Programme, half of all pregnant women in developing countries are anaemic (having an iron deficiency), which causes around 110,000 deaths during childbirth per year.

Without enough nutrients, a baby is at higher risk of neural tube defects, brain damage, premature birth, underdevelopment of organs, death and more. If a child becomes malnourished in the womb, the damage can be permanent.

Improving nutrition is an investment that could save the lives of women around the world; it will also decrease the number of birth defects and disabilities seen in newborns and young children. In many developing countries, nutrition is essential to promoting a happy and healthy lifestyle where no person goes to bed hungry.

Kelsey Parrotte

Sources: Livestrong, Mother and Child Nutrition, Virtual Medical Center, World Food Programme
Photo: The Visible Embryo

malnutrition_in_ghana

Ghana is one of the most successful countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region in combating hunger and malnourishment. The proportion of undernourished people went from 23.5% in 1996 to 2.9% in 2013, allowing them to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG1) target for halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger.

In northern Ghana, 63% of the population lives in extreme poverty, and most rely on crop production. Most of the service and industrial industries are in the south, where poverty is less prevalent.

School feeding helps keep malnutrition low: every day, 368 million children around the world eat a meal at school. The World Food Programme (WFP) provides monthly rations to families who send their daughters to school, and they provide scholarships for secondary school to those who complete the program with an 85% attendance rate.

Over 1.7 million children every day are fed through the Ghana School Feeding Program. The Partnership for Child Development (PCD) is collaborating with the government to link nutrition with school meals and community training. One way the PCD is developing nutritious school meals is through the use of an online meal planner.

The web-based planner allows the user to create and add the costs from local ingredients. It links prices from local markets and displays the total cost of each meal. Only 12.3% of the population has access to the Internet, so for those who do not have access, the PCD developed an offline meal planner.

“By coupling high-tech digital resources such as the meals planner with low-tech engagement, integrated school feeding and health programs are vital if governments are to tackle the malnutrition crisis facing the next generation,” said Dr. Lesley Drake, executive director of PCD.

PCD is also combating malnutrition in Ghana through community meetings and 400 community-based champions of health and nutrition in order to convey the importance of proper nutrition and hygiene.

Feed the Future is fighting for food security in Ghana by focusing on rice, corn and soybean production to help farmers where poverty is most prevalent. The agricultural industry needs more support in order to do more research for crop-yielding and improve irrigation infrastructure.

USAID is committed to sustaining agricultural productivity by managing natural resources. Feed the Future and USAID activities support Ghana’s goals of reducing poverty and increasing food security.

Malnutrition in Ghana is declining due to programs like the online meal planner and the work of organizations like Feed the Future and USAID. Undernourishment and hunger continue to decline, but since 2007, the prevalence of underweight children under the age of five in Ghana has only dropped 0.5% after declining 11.8% between 1997 to 2007. Today, 13.9% of children under five in Ghana are underweight.

Donald Gering

Sources: HGSF, Impatient Optimist, Knoema, Social Progress Imperative, UNDP, USAID WFP 1, WFP 2
Photo: Modern Ghana

Ghana-Reduced-Hunger-and-Malnutrition
At the 39th session of the Conference of Member States of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) held in Milan, Italy this June, Ghana was given an award from the FAO for reducing the level of its malnourished population from 7 million in the early 1990s to less than 1 million today.

Ghana is one of the 72 countries that have managed to reduce its level of people suffering from hunger to less than 5% of the population. Ghana has also seen a significant decrease in poverty. As Feed the Future states, Ghana’s GDP growth rate has grown from 4% in 2002 to 8% in 2012, as poverty was reduced from 52% to 28%.

Ghana’s success at decreasing the level of the population in poverty has made it the first Sub-Saharan African country to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015. This decline in poverty has led to a corresponding decline in levels of hunger and malnutrition. In 1990, 27% of the Ghanaian population was malnourished. By 2005, this number fell to less than 5%. The level of malnutrition in children has also reduced — it has been halved from the 1980s to today.

Ghana was able to drastically decrease poverty and hunger by investing in its agricultural sector. Ten percent of the Ghanaian budget is devoted to its agricultural sector, which, as The Gates Foundation states, has led to a steady growth in Ghana’s agricultural productivity of almost 5% each year since 1985. Ghana has also significantly increased its production of cocoa, allowing it to increase exports.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) states that besides agricultural growth, there are also other factors which helped to drive much of the population out of poverty. For example, the government of Ghana has introduced special social intervention plans which increase spending on programs that target the poor and vulnerable.

The south of Ghana is the country’s main agricultural area, which has led to a disparity in poverty between the north and the south. The poverty rates in the north are double than those in the south. In order to help decrease this poverty gap, Ghana has established four main interventions. The first is the adoption of security measures which help to end longstanding civil conflicts and attract private investment. The government also increased the number of resources it gives to the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA), an agency which works to plan a development agenda for the northern ecological zone in Ghana. Ghana has also augmented its infrastructure, providing more access to rural areas, and worked to help social intervention programs such as the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP).

The gap between the poverty levels in the north and south of Ghana is worrisome, but the four interventions that the government established should help decrease poverty in the north and help the country overall. Ghana’s ability to decrease its level of hunger is remarkable and suggests that other countries that wish to reduce hunger and malnutrition should be prepared to invest heavily in their agricultural sector.

– Ashrita Rau

Sources: Impatient Optimists, Action Aid USA, UNDP, Feed the Future, Ghana Business News, Ministry of Food and Agriculture
Photo: World Food Programme

child_malnutritionMalnutrition is responsible for causing over half of all child mortalities within the Sub-Saharan African nation of Malawi.

The economy of Malawi is largely agriculturally based, and has resulted in over 90 percent of the national population living under $2 per day. The sustainability of the Malawian diet has proven highly volatile, as both natural phenomenon and human activities have resulted in a persistent track record of food insecurity

With two major food-scarcity crises occurring in the past decade, researchers have noted that the level of dietary energy supply within Malawi does not meet the level of demand for population dietary energy requirements. Additionally, agricultural practices within this region have contributed to a lack of dietary diversification and insufficiencies in the provisioning of micronutrient food resources.

The statistical rates of children experiencing the effects of malnutrition within Malawi have remained unaltered since 1992. With 46 percent of children under the age of 5 experiencing variations of growth stunts and 21 percent of children underweight, researchers have noted that these adverse defects are most commonly influenced by micronutrient deficiencies.

A recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Health determined that 60 percent of children under the age of 5 and 57 percent of non-pregnant women were experiencing sub-clinical Vitamin A deficiencies. Low levels of Vitamin A are responsible for significantly weakening the immune systems of developing children and to contributing to lower life expectancy rates correlated to the contraction of major illnesses.

The leading causes of malnutrition within Malawian children commonly include inadequate access to adequate pediatric care systems, dismal sanitary infrastructure and resources, an increased regional prevalence of infectious diseases, and the malnourishment of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Efforts to improve micronutrient deficiency rates through food-based strategies have proven widely ineffective and must be redesigned to offer adequate micronutrient resources to at risk population groupings such as children under 5 and pregnant women.

Despite levels of child malnutrition remaining unacceptably high, the Malawian government has attained notable success in meeting certain child-oriented Millennium Development Goals (MDG). MDG 4 outlines the necessity for developing nations to reduce child mortality rates by two-thirds by the year 2015 and has largely focused on the development of medical and sanitary infrastructures, increasing the prevalence of field vaccination programs and the provisioning of community-based educational programs.

Realizing significant reductions in children under 5 and infant mortality rates during the past two decades, Malawi’s measurable progress in combatting malnutrition indicates the potential for the achievement of MDG 4 in the coming years. Efforts to reduce the frequency of malnutrition within Malawi have included increased sustainable immunization practices, more effective micronutrient supplementation and distribution, increased access to sanitary water resources and efforts to eradicate neonatal tetanus.

Despite the use of such development programs to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition, only 61 percent of the nation’s population exercises consistent access to enhanced sanitation methods. With an estimated 25 percent of government education institutions within Malawi lacking access to sanitary water resources, it is imperative to note the dire circumstances consistently faced by many Malawian children. The nation of Malawi will continue to face significant challenges in fully realizing MDG 4, as a climate of widespread poverty, weak institutional regulation and infrastructure, and limited resources due to human conflict and competition are responsible for adversely effecting these efforts.

With one in eight children dying each year in Malawi from preventable conditions including neonatal defects, malaria and HIV-related diseases, attention to the nutritional status of Malawian children is essential. The strengthening of short-term methodologies such as dietary supplementation coupled with investments in long-term food-based strategies will allow for continued successes in reducing national malnutrition rates.

– James Miller Thornton

Sources: FAO, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr