WHO raises the alarm over nutrition threat

News release

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, 9 August, 2011—Alarmed by millions of children dying or falling prey to diseases due to malnutrition in Asia and the Pacific, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that failure to address the issue is having an impact beyond health and is causing dire social and economic consequences.

WHO emphasized that malnutrition undermines economic growth and perpetuates poverty—affecting productivity by reducing capacity to perform physical work and lessening earning ability.

In a statement, WHO said the double burden of malnutrition—undernutrition and overweight, with undernutrition more prominent in Asia—weakens people's immune systems and heightens the risk of noncommunicable diseases.

Malnutrition accounts for 11% of the global burden of disease, leading to long-term poor health and disability, as well as poor educational and development outcomes. Worldwide, about 20% of deaths among children under 5 could be avoided through simple actions such as exclusive breastfeeding until six months, introduction of appropriate and safe complementary foods at six months, and continuation of breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond.

In an effort to reverse the rising trend in nutrition-related problems, health experts and policy-makers from Asia and the Pacific are to meet in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for three days of discussions. The meeting, the Biregional Meeting on Scaling Up Nutrition, is designed to gain better information on nutritional status, which is essential in identifying the areas where assistance is most needed to significantly improve nutrition in Asia and Pacific.

The meeting, which starts on 10 August, brings together experts from WHO's South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions, as well as from the Organization's Geneva headquarters. Also present will be nutrition specialists from South-East Asia and the Western Pacific regions.

Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, emphasized that nutrition plays a major role in cognitive and IQ development. "People with adequate nutrition are more productive and can create opportunities to gradually break the cycles of poverty and hunger," Dr Shin said.

Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO’s Regional Director for South-East Asia, stressed the need to address unhealthy diets – in conjunction with other risk factors – in order to combat noncommunicable diseases. "Infants who experience early growth retardation in life are at a higher risk of chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and both cardiovascular and metabolic diseases as young adults,” said Dr Samlee.

Undernutrition, often linked to a shortage of quality food and poor feeding practices, contributes to about one-third of all child deaths, and impairs healthy development and life-long productivity. In addition, undernutrition combined with inadequate sanitation, leads to frequent diarrhoeal diseases. About 71 million children in Asia are estimated to be underweight, according to WHO.

By contrast, being overweight contributes to chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other diet-related conditions. Global estimates suggest over 40 million children under the age of 5 are overweight or obese.

In response to global nutrition challenges, the sixty-third World Health Assembly, WHO's decision-making body, has approved a resolution urging Member States to increase political commitment to:

  • prevent and reduce malnutrition,
  • strengthen and expedite the sustainable implementation of the global strategy for infant and young child feeding,
  • develop or review current policy frameworks addressing the double burden of malnutrition,
  • scale up interventions to improve maternal, infant and young child nutrition, and
  • strengthen nutrition surveillance.

What: A Biregional Meeting on Scaling Up Nutrition

When: 10 to 12 August 2011

Where: Taj Samudra Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka

For more information or requests to interview, please contact: Marilu Lingad
Public Information Office
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific
Mobile no: +63 908 891 4532,
Email: lingadm@wpro.who.int Vismita Gupta-Smith
Public Information and Advocacy Officer
WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia
Email: guptasmithv@SEARO.WHO.INT

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