66 The Social and Economic Impact of the Double Burden of Malnutrition

Results from the pilot study in Chile, Ecuador and Mexico


  • WFP


Undernutrition and overweight and obesity are traditionally perceived as problems that affect the rich and the poor separately. In reality they are two faces of the same coin and both affect the poorest and most vulnerable communities disproportionately. When experienced together, they inflict a double burden on countries and their resources. Today, fifty seven countries are experiencing a double burden of malnutrition and that number is rising fast.

Although Latin America and the Caribbean has progressed in reducing undernutrition, rising obesity and overweight are becoming significant problems in the region. Meanwhile, stunting and anaemia remain serious public health problems, and addressing them continues to be a development priority in most countries. This coexistence of different forms of malnutrition, linked to demographic, epidemiologic and dietary changes results in increased chronic illnesses and mortality, and costs billions of dollars in lost productivity and health expenditures.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have partnered to estimate the impact of the double burden of malnutrition on health, education and productivity outcomes under the study – "The Cost of Double Burden of Malnutrition: Social and Economic Impact."

Key speakers/presenters

  • Mr. Miguel Barreto, Regional Director, Latin America and the Caribbean, World Food Programme
  • Mr. Rodrigo Martinez, Senior Social Affairs Officer, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Mr. Marc-André Prost, Regional Nutrition Advisor, Latin America and the Caribbean, World Food Programme
  • Ms. Brave Ndisale, Strategic Programme Leader, Food Security and Nutrition (SP1), Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations
  • Ms. Marzella Wüstefeld, Technical Officer, Office of the Director, Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, World Health Organisation
  • Ms. Lauren Landis, Director, Nutrition Division, World Food Programme


Latin America has made significant progress in reducing malnutrition thanks to increased public spending in social protection and health. Chronic malnutrition has declined by 62% since 2000. Most countries have eradicated acute malnutrition. This sustained investment demonstrates the commitment of national governments to assist their most vulnerable populations.

However rapid increases in levels of obesity and overweight undermine achievements on undernutrition. Different forms of malnutrition often coexist within the most vulnerable families and communities, particularly in countries experiencing a rapid nutrition transition. It represents a double burden with tremendous impact in terms of premature deaths, excess morbidity, and lower educational achievements resulting in lower productivity and increased public health expenditures.

"The cost of the double burden of malnutrition" study shows that malnutrition generates an annual cost of 0.2% of GDP in Chile and 2.3% in Mexico. Child undernutrition has a greater impact on productivity costs due to premature deaths and poor academic performance, however overweight and obesity are fast becoming a major burden owing to treatment costs of associated non-communicable diseases, primarily hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Projections made until 2078 estimates that overweight and obesity will generate an average annual cost of one billion dollars in Chile and 13 billion dollars in Mexico, far outweighing the cost due to undernutrition.

  • Today 54 countries across all continents are experiencing a double burden of malnutrition, and the number is growing fast.
  • Rising levels of overweight and obesity in low-income countries, still suffering from high level of undernutrition is worrying. In Africa, the number of overweight or obese children increased by nearly 50% in the past 15 years; and 40% in Asia.
  • Nutrition-sensitive policies and regulations need to accompany economic growth with to prevent food systems and food environments from becoming obesogenic, while at the same time maintaining the momentum to eliminate hunger and malnutrition.
  • The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and The Nutrition Decade (2016-25) are opportunities to strengthen global governance for nutrition and leverage multi-stakeholder action to address the double burden through double duty actions.
  • Unhealthy diets is now the top risk factor for the Global Burden of Diseases. The global food system shapes an unhealthy food environment, and requires unsustainable levels of natural resources, exacerbating climate change and eroding the livelihoods of millions.
  • Regulation is key to protect and inform consumers, and reduce inequalities along the food chain.
  • The private sector is pivotal for producing and transferring food in a more sustainable manner, and marketing and labelling healthier food to inform consumers and improved the food environment

Key outcomes/take away messages

  • Malnutrition is changing, from hunger to the double burden of malnutrition, requiring a new look at food insecurity and inequality.
  • The data presented are clear indicators of the economic consequences of the social footprint of malnutrition.
  • Social investments - in addition to realizing the economic, social and cultural rights of all - contribute to human capacities throughout the life cycle and generate significant gains in terms of productivity.
  • The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is an opportunity to turn these malnutrition costs into a development opportunity, and ensure no one is left behind.
  • https://www.wfp.org/content/2017-cost-double-burden-malnutrition-social-and-economic-impact
Side Event - 66 - The Social and Economic Impact of the Double Burden of Malnutrition