According to the 2016 Global Nutrition Report released yesterday, malnutrition has a new look. While we once associated malnourishment with insufficient food intake, the Western world's obesity crisis is changing face of what it means to have poor nutrition.
The report, which was written by more than 100 independent experts in the field of food policy and nutrition worldwide, found that 57 of the 129 countries studied have "serious levels" of undernutrition and, increasingly, obesity
According to the experts, malnutrition, which the NHS defines as "a serious condition that occurs when a person's diet doesn't contain the right amount of nutrients," directly affects one in three people and is "by far the biggest risk factor for the global burden of disease."
But when it comes to the causes of malnutrition, the report found that obesity is becoming a bigger factor. Highlighted particularly in children, the research found that out of the 667 million children under five-years-old worldwide, 50 million "do not weigh enough for their height" and "41 million are overweight."
Corinna Hawkes, co-chair of the study and professor in food policy at City University London, told MUNCHIES that obesity-related malnutrition is on the rise. She said: "We have a long standing problem of stunting (when kids don't grow properly), wasting (when kids are too thin), and micronutrient deficiency (not enough iron or zinc, for example). We have to add to that a growth of obesity and nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases like cancer."
Hawkes went on to say that the study is "redefining malnutrition as including any form of 'bad' nutrition," not just undernutrition.
As well as exploring the extent to which malnutrition affects people around the world, the Global Nutrition Report also looked into how effective governments' food policies have been up until this point in tackling the problem.
It found two thirds of countries "have made no progress in carrying out three core World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations to promote healthy diets." These recommendations are salt reduction and trans- and saturated-fat reduction, as well as implementation of the WHO's Recommendations on Marketing to Children.
Hawkes reinforced the report's call for urgent and effective action. She said: "What we have now is implementation failure. We need every country to set clear targets for ending malnutrition and then have a single-minded focus on delivering. We know that it can be done from success stories."
The Global Nutrition Report does however end on a positive note, stating that "a world without malnutrition can become the 'new normal.'"
Only time will tell if this becomes a reality.