WHO calls for expanded nutrition interventions to avert child deaths

News release

With solid evidence pointing to proper nutrition as essential for survival, health and development, the World Health Organization raised malnutrition high on the agenda of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific.

The Regional Committee, WHO's governing body in the Region, is meeting in Hanoi from 24 to 28 September to review WHO's work in the Region and to set future directions to improve the health of the Region’s people.

Addressing the Regional Committee, Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said that despite a drop in undernutrition rates in the Region, "there is no room for complacency as the levels of maternal and young child undernutrition continue to be too high. At the same time, the rising rates of obesity and noncommunicable disease represent an epidemic—one that is growing fast in our Region. This double burden of malnutrition leads to long-term negative impacts on the health and development of the people and for the economies of Member States."

Adequate provision of nutrients, beginning at the earliest stages of life, is essential to ensure good physical and mental development and long-term health and productivity.

Dr Shin warned that many countries in the Region now tend to focus on the problem of overnutrition even as undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies continue to be a problem.

In an effort to address malnutrition, the Regional Committee, composed of 37 countries and areas in the Western Pacific, pledged to scale up and sustain cost-effective nutrition interventions aiming to prevent more than 100 000 under five-year-old child deaths per year in the Region. This means saving more than 270 lives of children under five years every day—or 11 lives per hour.

Dr Shin urged the Regional Committee to expand areas for action, to identify targets and priority actions in health and other sectors, and to adopt a time frame and indicators for monitoring.

The Regional Committee is set to endorse a resolution to scale up nutrition, based on the WHO Comprehensive Implementation Plan on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition. It called for increased investment in 2012–2025 to expand nutrition interventions, with targets to reduce substantially the double burden of malnutrition and related mortality and morbidity, including stunting and wasting, anaemia in women and low birth weight. At the same time, the plan seeks to increase exclusive breast-feeding and to stop the rapid increase in obesity among children.

The WHO Regional Office convened a high-level panel on food and nutrition security, in conjunction with the Regional Committee meeting, to help increase joint action among United Nations agencies and further strengthen inter-agency collaboration in support of Member States in the Region.

WHO will also intensify efforts to push forward Scaling Up Nutrition, a multi-stakeholder movement to fight hunger and undernutrition using cost-effective interventions. Nutrition will be integrated not only in health programmes but also in agriculture, education, employment, social welfare and development programmes.

Maternal and child undernutrition accounts for 11% of the global burden of disease and results in more than 100 000 child deaths annually in the Region. Anaemia affects 22% of non-pregnant women of reproductive age and 31% of pregnant women. Between 4% to 48% of children under five years are stunted based on data from 12 countries in the Region that reported stunting; vitamin A-deficiency is a public health problem in at least six countries; and 22% of school children have insufficient iodine intake. Obesity rates are rapidly increasing in both children and adults, increasing NCD risks for both.

Some 20 million children born with low birth weight each year are also at greater risk of noncommunicable diseases later in life, WHO said.

For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Ms Marilu Lingad
Mobile (Viet Nam): +84 (0)1272643638
Mobile (Philippines): +63 908 891 4532;
E-mail: lingadm@wpro.who.int

Mr Timothy O'Leary
Mobile (Viet Nam): +84 (0)1252093845
Mobile (Philippines): +63 908 886 8738
E-mail: olearyt@wpro.who.int