The world observed World Food Day on October 16 with a call for bolder and faster action to make healthy and sustainable diets available and affordable for all. However, collective action is required to tackle an enormous challenge such as global hunger.
This year’s World Food Day takes place in the context of rising global hunger but also increasing obesity. A third of the world’s nearly 700 million children under five years old are either malnourished or overweight facing lifelong health problems, according to grim UN assessment on child nutrition.
Around 149 million children four years or younger still suffer from stunted growth and are too short for their age, a clinical condition that impairs both brain and body development. Another 50 million children are afflicted by wasting disease, a chronic and debilitating thinness also born of poverty.
At the same time, half of children across the globe under five are not getting essential vitamins and minerals, a long-standing problem dubbed the “hidden hunger.” Making sure every child has access to a healthy diet must become a political priority if widespread malnutrition is to be conquered especially in developing countries.
Over the last three decades, however, another form of child malnutrition has surged across the developing world: excess weight. The rise of obesity is plain to see. The problem was virtually non-existent in poor countries 30 years ago, but today at least 10 percent of under-five-year-olds are overweight or obese in three-quarters of low-income nations.
Problems that once existed at opposite ends of the wealth spectrum have converged in developing countries. There needs to be a focus on obesity before it is too late. The presence of cheap, readily available junk food, often marketed directly to kids, has made the problem much worse. This needs to be dealt with in a preventative way or we will struggle to fix it later on.
Taxes on sugary foods and beverages, regulating the sale of infant formula and milk substitutes, limiting advertising and sale of junk food near schools, along with other restrictive measures could make a difference.
There is a need to mobilise civil society and raise awareness. If children are not fed healthy diets, then this leaves a huge question mark on the future of our societies. The rising hunger is unacceptable as the world wastes more than 1 billion tonnes of food every year. However, affordable solutions to reduce all forms of malnutrition require greater global commitment and action.