To review current information on under- and over-malnutrition and the consequences of socioeconomic disparities on global nutrition and health.
Malnutrition, both under and over, can no longer be addressed without considering global food insecurity, socioeconomic disparity, both globally and nationally, and global cultural, social and epidemiological transitions.
The economic gap between the more and less affluent nations is growing. At the same time income disparity is growing within most countries, both developed and developing. Concurrently, epidemiological, demographic and nutrition transitions are taking place in many countries.
Fully one-third of young children in the world's low-income countries are stunted because of malnutrition. One-half of all deaths among young children are, in part, a consequence of malnutrition. Forty per cent of women in the developing world suffer from iron deficiency anaemia, a major cause of maternal mortality and low birth weight infants. Despite such worrying trends, there have been significant increases in life expectancy in nearly all countries of the world, and continuing improvements in infant mortality rates. The proportion of children malnourished has generally decreased, although actual numbers have not in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. Inequalities are increasing between the richest developed countries and the poorest developing countries. Social inequality is an important factor in differential mortality in both developed and developing countries. Many countries have significant pockets of malnutrition and increased mortality of children, while obesity and non-communicable disease (NCDs) prevalences are increasing. Not infrequently it is the poor and relatively disadvantaged sectors of the population who are suffering both. In the industrialized countries. cardiovascular disease incidence has declined, but less so in the poorer socioeconomic strata.
The apparent contradicitions found represent a particular point in time (population responses generally lag behind social and environmental transitions). They do also show encouraging evidence that interventions can have a positive impact, sometimes despite disadvantageous circumstances. However, it seems increasingly unlikely that food production will continue to keep up with population growth. It is also unlikely present goals for reducing protein-energy malnutrition prevalence will be reached. The coexistence of diseases of undernutrition and NCDs will have an impact on allocation of resources. Action needs to be continued and maintained at the international, national and individual level.