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Extent and Human Consequences of Malnutrition

How rampant is malnutrition?

By FAO’s most recent (2009) estimate, over one billion people worldwide are undernourished. This is more than 15 percent of the estimated world population of 6.6 billion. Most of the undernourished are in developing countries.

A third of children under five years of age suffer from chronic malnutrition. In children, calorie/protein deficient diets result in underweight, wasting, lowered resistance to infection, stunted growth, and impaired cognitive development and learning. The body compensates for lack of food by retarded physical and intellectual growth. Malnutrition is a factor in at least half of the 10.9 million child deaths each year. Malnutrition, as measured by stunting, affects 32.5 percent of children in developing countries -- one of three. Children who are poorly nourished suffer up to 160 days of illness each year.

Under-nutrition among pregnant women in developing countries leads to 1 out of 6 infants born with low birth weight. This is not only a risk factor for neonatal deaths, but also causes learning disabilities, mental, retardation, poor health, blindness and premature death.

Where is the problem most severe?

Some region's children are particularly vulnerable. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where one of every three children is underweight, the nutritional status of children is worsening. Malnutrition and HIV/AIDS reinforce each other -- thus the success of HIV/AIDS programs in Africa depends in part on improving nutrition. Half of all children in South Asia are underweight. Contrary to common perceptions, undernutrition prevalence rates in India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan are much higher (38 to 51 percent) than those in Sub-Saharan Africa (26 percent). Even in East Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, many countries have a serious problem of undernutrition or micronutrient malnutrition.

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