It is a bitter irony that as developing countries continue their efforts to reduce hunger, some are also facing the opposing problem of obesity. Obesity carries a higher incidence of chronic illness including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. And while some of the poor are becoming plumper, they are not necessarily better fed. Obesity often masks underlying deficiencies in vitamins and minerals.
"We believe obesity is a significant problem that needs to be dealt with, along with the problem of the underfed," says Prakash Shetty, Chief of FAO's Nutrition Planning, Assessment and Evaluation service.
Just a few years ago, such a statement was rare. Experts hesitated to draw attention to obesity when so many lives were crippled by hunger -- and out of a total of 815 million hungry people around the world almost 780 million are in developing countries. But startling data released last year by the Worldwatch Institute challenged conventional wisdom: For the first time, the number of overweight individuals worldwide rivals those who are underweight. And sadly, developing nations have joined the ranks of countries encumbered by obesity.
Three problems, one
solution: good nutrition
In addition, practically all of the hungry and many of the overweight are weakened by a third type of malnutrition: A lack of vitamins and minerals referred to as micronutrient deficiency.
"The thinking used to be that if people get enough energy
in their diets, the micronutrients will take care of
themselves," says Dr Burlingame. "But increasingly people
are eating larger quantities of cheap food that fill the
stomach but still leave the body without those
FAO maintains that a sound approach to nutrition must focus on quality as well as quantity. "One of our most important roles is to promote a diverse diet including traditional foods, which are generally balanced and high in nutrition, " says Dr Shetty. To read about the reasons behind obesity in the developing world, click here.
sheet on malnutrition
Worldwatch Institute: Underfed
and Overfed: The Global Epidemic of Malnutrition