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Nutrition Experts Gather At WHO Headquarters To Discuss Ways To Fight Malnutrition

As world nutrition experts gather this week at the WHO headquarters to discuss ways to fight global malnutrition, VOA News examines the growing issues of “undernutrition and obesity, which affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide.”

While nearly four million children die each year from symptoms of undernutrition, “including underweight, and vitamin and mineral deficiency, particularly of vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc,” an estimated “43 million children over age five are overweight,” according to the WHO. Of these, 35 million live in developing countries, the news service writes. 

“We are seeing that often we have in the same countries, at the same time, the presence of undernutrition and overweight,” Francesco Branca, WHO’s director of Nutrition for Health and Development, said. “We have the greatest increase in overweight in Africa, particularly North Africa, and we now can say that perhaps the proportion of the number of children who are overweight is actually larger in developing countries than in developed countries,” Branca added (Schlein, 3/16).

In Africa, “[t]he number of overweight … children under five has tripled to 13.5 million in 20 years,” jumping from 4 percent of the total under-five population in 1990 to 8.5 percent in 2010, Agence France-Presse reports. “In Asia, the corresponding gain over the same period was from 3.2 percent to 4.9 percent,” the news service notes.

“What we have seen in developing countries is that the offer of food is moving towards highly refined, industrial food which often have very high content of sugar and fat” and is “low in essential vitamins and minerals,” Branca said, according to the news service.

Branca also noted how poor nutrition among pregnant women can lead to low birthweight infants, who are at an increased vulnerability to becoming overweight later in life. He added that “children with very low birthweight are less able to handle high energy density food” (3/16).