Ranging “from too little to too much”: Malnutrition is complex

Leaving the opening plenary session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) which took place in Rome today, one of the aspects discussed there stuck with me like a gum on the sole of my shoe: the complexity of malnutrition.

Because, while there are more than 800 million hungry people around the world (one in every  nine people according to World Food Programme findings) , more than 600 million are obese (according to World Health Organization statistics. That kept on coming up in so many of the speeches:  the opening remarks made by the Director-General of UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), President of International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), and the representative of CFS’s High Level Panel of Experts, as well as the single member states representatives. Almost all of them addressed the issue in one way or another.

While those statistics speak for themselves, it was how the representatives from across the world highlighted the many different aspects of malnutrition that struck me.

Although I consider myself to be fairly well-educated on the matter, I realized just how shallowly I was looking at the issue. Many of us when confronted with the topic may simply think about those that are under-nourished, and that lack access to food. This certainly is a worrying reality, malnutrition estimated to contribute to more than one third of all child deaths.  But it is not the only face of malnutrition.

If you are living in a developed country and have access to all the food you want, do you stop and think that maybe you are malnourished? If yes, you might be the exception to the rule.

The World Food Programme (WFP) describes malnutrition in the following way: “When a person is not getting enough food or not getting the right sort of food, malnutrition is just around the corner. Even if people get enough to eat, they will become malnourished if the food they eat does not provide the proper amounts of micronutrients - vitamins and minerals - to meet daily nutritional requirements”. This really gave me some food for thought, together with the information from FAO’s hunger facts that states that malnutrition is the single largest contributor to disease in the world.

The sensation is that there is a huge imbalance, a lack of communication and lack of understanding when it comes to what malnutrition is, and what a balanced, sustainable diet should look be. I heard the words nutrition, malnutrition and sustainability mentioned so many times that I ended up feeling overwhelmed. On one side we are fighting to insure that people have enough food to survive the day, and on the other we are fighting to force others to eat more and waste less.  Both groups are suffering and dying.

What is the answer?                                                                                                                        

“Food is an expression of life,” pointed out the representative of Venezuela’s government at the plenary.  One must agree - we all need food to survive. That is the one thing we need no debate on. But we need good, nutritious and sufficient food to survive: a balanced, varied diet that supports our lifestyles.  But a lifestyle is a private issue, as is nutrition.

It makes me think that perhaps the problem is communication. It seems like the current communication fails to sufficiently sensitize people worldwide around these topics. 

We keep on talking about building new sustainable food systems and we should also put a lot of effort in identifying best ways to communicate to the individual the responsibility each one of us has in this process. I know communication is not the only answer to tackle this complex issue, but I do believe we need to invest in the kind of communication that will reach us all, no matter what our lifestyle is and where we live. We need better communication so that those who live in developed countries understand that malnourishment concerns them also, and for those who face hunger daily to have their voices heard and acknowledged.

On 1 April 2016 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed a UN Decade of Action on Nutrition that will run from 2016 to 2025. The resolution calls upon FAO and WHO to lead the implementation of this Decade of Action in collaboration with WFP, IFAD and UNICEF and also involving coordination mechanisms such as the United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN) and the multi-stakeholder platform  which hosted the debate today, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). I think involving as many stakeholders as possible and coordinating a global communication campaign that can reach everyone, will be paramount.

This #NutritionDecade could be an opportunity for urgent - and I would say - radical action to tackle malnutrition and provide healthy food and diets for all. I believe this will happen only if we can make everyone understand the complexity of the issue of malnutrition, make them nutrition-aware and empowered to make the difference on a personal and global level.

Blogpost by Ksenija Simovic #CFS43 Social Reporter:  ksenijasimovic@gmail.com

This post is part of the live coverage during the 43rd Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

Picture courtesy: WFP

18/10/2016 0:00

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