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Undernutrition challenge

It is estimated that 805 million people around the world suffer from hunger every day and more than two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. Children in the developing world tend to be among the worst affected. One in five children under-five (or approximately 161 million globally) is stunted – most of whom live in developing countries. Half (45%) of the deaths of young children (under five) are linked to undernutrition. A substantial amount (12%) of which is attributed to sub-optimal breastfeeding.
Undernutrition takes the following forms:

  • Wasting: UNICEF defines moderate and severe wasting as below minus two standard deviations from median weight for height of reference population. Wasting is usually the result of acute significant food shortage and/or disease.
  • Chronic undernutrition – stunting: UNICEF defines moderate and severe stunting as below minus two standard deviations from median height for age of reference population. Stunting is caused by long-term insufficient nutrient intake and frequent infections.
  • Micronutrient deficiencies: According to UNICEF, micronutrient deficiencies occur when people do not have access to foods rich in micronutrients like fruit, vegetables, animal products or fortified foods. This is usually because they are too expensive or unavailable locally. Micronutrient deficiencies increase the risk of infectious illness and of death from diarrhoea, measles, malaria and pneumonia and are associated with other deadly and highly debilitating diseases.

Wasting and stunting are caused by a lack of energy (calories), particularly protein and micronutrients such as iodine, vitamin A and iron. However a significant number of people who eat sufficient calories do not obtain sufficient micronutrients and this leads to the third form of undernutrition: micronutrient deficiency, which is sometimes referred to as hidden hunger.

As with obesity the economic costs of undernutrition are high. It is estimated that many countries lose 2-3% of their gross domestic product (GDP) due to undernutrition. However, in the hardest hit countries in Africa and Asia the cost of undernutrition can be as high as 11% of GDP.

Improving nutrition for all

The Access to Nutrition Index rates food and beverage manufacturers´ nutrition-related policies, practices and disclosures worldwide on a recurring basis.


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