“Triple burden of malnutrition” slows down progress towards Zero Hunger in Europe and Central Asia

Enabling policies, partnerships, social protection and nutrition-sensitive food systems are key to end hunger and malnutrition in the region

26 June 2019, Rome - Despite the heterogeneity of the region, there is one common challenge related to food security that is present to varying degrees in all countries of Europe and Central Asia  - "the triple burden of malnutrition" consisting of undernutrition, overweight and obesity, and micronutrient deficiencies.  This pressing issue was discussed today by representatives of FAO Member Countries at a special event on the sidelines of the 41st Session of the UN agency's Conference.

In his opening remarks, the FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva noted that the region of Europe and Central Asia is better nourished compared to other regions where hunger is "a traditional issue" but it has been recently affected by the impact of climate change, which impedes the efforts to grow food and have better nutrition.

"There is also another issue - the growing level of obesity, reaching epidemic levels in some countries of the region," he said.

"It is now an established fact that in Europe and the richer countries, the problem is not one of undernutrition, but rather of diseases whose human impacts are more specifically due to poor nutrition and overeating," said Carlo Petrini, the founder of the International Slow Food Movement and FAO Goodwill Ambassador for Zero Hunger for the Region of Europe.

In a video message to participants, he stressed that tackling these issues requires extensive food education efforts, while at the same time safeguarding small-scale farmer's locally-based and sustainable economic activities.

Noting that although structured hunger is the thing of the past in the region, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia, Vladimir Rakhmanin, said that "malnutrition is still present in spite of rising prosperity."

Among important challenges for food security, which need to be addressed in the region, Rakhmanin cited climate change and acute crises spilling over across borders. 

He prioritized three areas of work in the region including support to smallholder- and family farmers, improving agrifood trade and market integration, and sustainable natural resource management under changing climate.

"Recently we have started focusing on nutrition issues more, addressing increasingly the negative effects of obesity and overweight including impacts of food systems on non-communicable diseases," he added.

Rakhmanin, also expressed his gratitude to FAO's partners in the region for their active support, including the European Union and Turkey - in particular for their role in providing accommodation for Syrian refugees - the Russian Federation and China. He noted that the latter, though outside the region, is "actively engaged in projects in Central Asia, the Caucuses and the Balkans."

Obesity and micronutrient deficiencies - a serious concern for Europe and Central Asia

Dr. Mirjana Gurinovic, Senior Researcher from the Serbia's Centre of Research Excellence in Nutrition and Metabolism Institute, gave an insight into the dynamics of all three components of malnutrition in the region.

"Malnutrition is a major obstacle to socio-economic development in many countries due to its impact on health and population with high social and public costs," she said.

She noted that undernutrition has been decreasing in the last decade in Europe and Central Asia but is now stagnating at 6.2 percent from 2017.

"On the other hand we have micronutrient deficiencies - so called "hidden hunger"- with the highest prevalence of iron deficiencies causing anemia," Gurinovic said, noting that anemia among women have already reached 38 percent in the Caucasus and in Central Asia.  

In her presentation, she also highlighted the increasing threat of obesity looming over the region with around 25 percent of the population suffering from this fast growing epidemic.

In the Caucasus and Central Asia, we have witnessed the highest growth rate of obesity for the last two decades, she said, the obesity prevalence grew by 40 percent in these countries from 2000 to 2016. "If you look at the total population, the Western Balkans and Turkey are leading in the rates of obesity," she added.

Tackling hunger, poverty and malnutrition in Tajikistan

The Deputy Minister for Agriculture of Tajikistan Nusratulo Musoev shared his country's experience in tackling hunger, poverty and malnutrition.

"With the FAO's support, the Government of Tajikistan is developing programmes aimed at channeling the remittances of migrants towards agricultural development in the country," he said, noting that remittances make a substantial contribution to the national economy accounting for 30 percent of the country's GDP.

"More than half of the households in Tajikistan receive remittances, which are a significant part of their revenues ranging from 50 to 60 percent. These remittances are becoming an important and stable source of income for many households allowing them to overcome poverty," the Deputy Minister said.

He also noted that the government of Tajikistan and FAO are supporting a more rational use of remittances by investing money in the development of family farms as opposed to being fully spent on households' daily needs.

Musoev also highlighted the importance of school feeding programmes. "With the support of FAO, the government of Tajikistan is working on the implementation of a school feeding nutrition development programme aimed at enhancing access of children to healthy and diverse diets while at the same time promoting the development of local agricultural production in schools," he said.

The Deputy Minister noted that under the project 20 selected schools have established 22 greenhouses using drip irrigation, which made it possible to improve the diets of 3400 students.

Rakhmanin concluded by saying: "We need to continue contributing to the rural development but also safeguarding biodiversity, promoting agroecology, preventing antimicrobial resistance and tackling transboundary animal diseases," and pointed to the region's wealth of nutrient-rich diets, "which we can introduce to the world." He also urged greater cooperation between countries and the sharing of best practices.  

Photo: ©FAO/Vyacheslav Oseledko /
Kyrgyz women wearing national costumes cook national food of sprouted wheat 'Sumelek' during preparations for the celebration of Nowruz (New Year) in the village of Kok-Djar, Kyrgyzstan.