Ten facts on Nutrition
Nutrition is a foundation for health and development. Better nutrition means stronger immune systems, less illness and better health for people of all ages.
Healthy children learn better. Healthy people are stronger, more productive, and better able to break cycles of poverty and realize their full potential.
The world faces increasing threats to food security, as a result of rising food prices and less agricultural productivity, which could lead to undernutrition. Conversely, some populations are challenged with escalating obesity.
This fact file explores the risks posed by malnutrition, nutrition through the life cycle, and ways to improve global nutritional health.
adapted from WHO
Malnutrition is a major contributor to the total global disease burden. More than one third of child deaths worldwide are attributed to undernutrition. Poverty is a central cause of undernutrition.
A key indicator of chronic malnutrition is stunting - when children are too short for their age group compared to the WHO child growth standards. About 178 million children globally are stunted, resulting from not enough food, a vitamin- and mineral-poor diet, and disease. As growth slows down, brain development lags and stunted children learn poorly. Stunting rates among children are highest in Africa and Asia. In south-central Asia 41% are affected.
Wasting is a severe form of malnutrition - resulting from acute food shortages and compounded by illness. About 1.5 million children die annually due to wasting. Rising food prices, food scarcity in areas of conflict, and natural disasters diminish household access to appropriate and adequate food, all of which can lead to wasting. Wasting demands emergency nutritional interventions to save lives.
Hidden hunger is a lack of essential vitamins and minerals in the diet, which are vital to boost immunity and healthy development. Vitamin A, zinc, iron and iodine deficiencies are primary public health concerns. About 2 billion people are affected by iodine deficiencies worldwide; and vitamin A is associated with more than half a million deaths of under-five children globally each year.
The rise in overweight and obesity worldwide is a major public health challenge. People of all ages and backgrounds face this
type of malnutrition. As a consequence, rates of diabetes and other diet-related diseases are escalating, even in developing
countries. In a few developing countries, up to 20% of children under-five are overweight.
Good nutrition during pregnancy ensures a healthier baby. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, introducing age-appropriate and safe complementary foods at six months, and continuing breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond. About 20% of deaths among children under-five worldwide could be avoided if these feeding guidelines are followed. Appropriate feeding decreases rates of stunting and obesity and stimulates intellectual development in young children.
Nutritional problems in adolescents start during childhood and continue into adult life. Anaemia is a key nutritional problem in adolescent girls. Preventing early pregnancies and fortifying the nutritional health of developing girls can reduce maternal and child deaths later, and stop cycles of malnutrition from one generation to the next. For both girls and boys, adolescence is an ideal time to shape good eating and physical activity habits.
A lifetime of unhealthy eating and inactivity raises health risks over time - contributing to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and other problems. The global population is ageing: the number of people aged 60 and older will jump from 700 million today to 1 billion by 2020. Nutritional health at older ages will be a critical factor in the state of global health.
Nutrition information is required to identify the areas where nutritional assistance is most needed and monitor the progress of change. In 2006 WHO released international child growth standards that provide benchmarks to compare children's nutritional status within and across countries and regions.
Public education is another way to improve nutritional health. Starting in China during the Beijing Olympics, and continuing in other countries, WHO and Member States will promote "5 keys" to a healthy diet:
- give your baby only breast milk for the first six months of life
- eat a variety of foods
- eat plenty of vegetables and fruits
- eat moderate amounts of fat and oils
- eat less salt and sugars
11 April, 2013