The Spectrum of Malnutrition

Hunger and malnutrition remain among the most devastating problems facing the majority of the world's poor and needy, and continue to dominate the health of the world's poorest nations.

Nearly 30% of humanity - infants, children, adolescents, adults and older persons in the developing world - are currently suffering from one or more of the multiple forms of malnutrition. This remains a continuing travesty of the recognised fundamental human right to adequate food and nutrition, and freedom from hunger and malnutrition, particularly in a world that has both the resources and knowledge to end this catastrophe. The tragic consequences of malnutrition include death, disability, stunted mental and physical growth and as a result, retarded national socioeconomic development. Some 49% of the 10.7 million deaths each year among children aged under 5 in the developing world are associated with malnutrition. Iron-deficiency anaemia affects 2 billion people, especially women and children. Iodine deficiency is the greatest single preventable cause of brain damage and mental retardation worldwide: 740 million are affected. PEM affects 150 million children aged under 5. Intrauterine growth retardation affects 30 million per year (23.8% of all births).Vitamin A deficiency remains the single greatest preventable cause of needless childhood blindness, with 2.8 million children aged under 5 affected. At the same time, especially in rapidly industrialising and industrialised countries, a massive global epidemic of obesity is emerging in children, adolescents and adults, so that more than half the adult population is affected in some countries, with consequent increasing death rates from heart disease, hypertension, stroke and diabetes. Diet is also a major causative factor in the problems of post-menopausal women and in many types of cancer [2],

Other important nutrition issues affecting large population groups include:

- Only 35% of infants are exclusively breast-fed between 0 and 4 months of age

- Poor complementary feeding practices are very widespread - a major cause of childhood malnutrition

- Scurvy, beriberi and rickets occur in badly deprived and refugee populations

- Folate deficiency in women of child-bearing age and adolescent girls, causing three quarters of the cases of anaemia and neural tube defects

- Zinc deficiency in deprived populations, contributing to growth retardation, diarrhoea, immune deficiency, skin lesions

- Selenium deficiency, widespread in China and the Russian Federation, causing Keshan disease and Kashin-Beck disease.

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