Underfed and overfed: The global epidemic of malnutrition

  • Gardner G
  • Halweil B
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Three billion people-more than half of the global population-are malnourished, suffering from hunger, vitamin and mineral deficiency, or overeating. And for the first time in history the world's overweight population now rivals the number that is underweight. The hungry and the overweight often face similar impairments: increased risk of disease and disability, reduced productivity, and reduced life expectancy. The World Bank estimates that hunger cost India between 3 and 9 percent of its GDP in 1996, while obesity cost the United States $118 billion-some 12 percent of what the nation spends on health care. For individuals as well as societies, malnutrition is a drag on development. But the reverse is also true: poor development choices spawn malnourished societies. Where hunger is the problem, governments have often failed to assure access to land and other productive resources, as well as basic social services. Where overeating is the issue, policymakers have typically neglected nutrition education, allowing giant food companies to influence people's food choices by default. In an age of unprecedented wealth, there is no excuse for malnutrition on such a massive scale. From the Indian state of Kerala to the island of Singapore, governments that appreciate the role of nutrition in national development and make good nutrition a priority demonstrate that both hunger and obesity can largely be eliminated.

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  • G. Gardner

  • B. Halweil

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