Laos: nutritious meals are bringing more children to school. Photo: World Bank/Bart Verweij
CAIRO – 11 November 2017: The United Nations Food Security Agency reported on Friday that urgent action is needed to tackle malnutrition and promote consumption of healthier foods in the Asia-Pacific region, which is home to the world’s most undernourished people.
“Good nutrition depends on raising awareness about healthy foods and choices, as well as efficient, affordable and sustainable systems to deliver that food,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, the head of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the Asia-Pacific region. The findings came from the agency’s regional report on food security and nutrition.
“If we are to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger in the region, we must invest to improve our food systems, pool our knowledge and resources to meet our current food and nutrition challenges head on,” Kadiresan added.
The FAO “Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition” report from 2017 has revealed that while food security has improved for millions of people in Asia and the Pacific, hunger and malnutrition appear to be rising in some areas, leaving roughly a half billion people undernourished.
The situation is particularly dire for children below five years old, with one in four children suffering from stunting impaired growth and development, often as a result of poor nutrition.
At the same time, the report also found that obesity is on the rise, with “significant increases” in the prevalence of overweight children over the past 15 years, especially in South Asia (from three percent to seven percent) and Oceania (five percent to nearly 10 percent).
The report was released on Friday at a regional symposium on sustainable food systems in Bangkok, Thailand. The regional symposium is organized by FAO, in collaboration with the World Food Program (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO), U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the World Bank. It focuses on policies that can improve food systems and promote better nutrition and healthier diets.
The event was opened by the FAO special goodwill ambassador for zero hunger in the region, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, who urged participants to work together to find solutions. “The world has committed to zero hunger and improving nutrition as a key outcome of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We must look at improving our current systems of production and patterns of consumption, and set a course of action,” she said.
The symposium is a component of the U.N. Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016-2025, which aims to increase investments and actions to improve people’s diets and nutrition.
This is the second report by FAO to highlight the issue of malnutrition.
In December 2016, the international organization outlined declining progress towards defeating hunger in Asia and the Pacific, noting that in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030, the region must redouble its efforts.
The FAO suggests that in addition to challenges related to hunger and malnutrition, there are aspects of malnutrition arising from poor diets, such as obesity, which has risen by more than four percent annually. Also, the report explained that as countries grow richer, diets change, especially in Asia.