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Nutrition: Hidden hunger not cured by higher incomes

By The Africa Report
Posted on Thursday, 7 June 2012 14:06

Malnutrition is undermining human development in Africa.

The first Africa ­Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ‘Towards a Food Secure Future’, reports that malnutrition costs developing countries up to 3% of GDP each year.

Traditional African diets consist largely of root and cereal crops that lack micro­nutrients and proteins from other vegetables, fruits and animals.

“In Asia, the amount of proteins and calories that comes from meat, dairy and eggs has increased: it has doubled over the past 10 years,” says Pedro Conceição, chief economist at the UNDP’s Africa bureau. “In Africa, however, it has remained stagnant.”

Although it would be rational for people with more disposable income to start buying more nutritious foods, they tend not to, opting instead for sugary drinks and foods high in saturated fats.

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Conceição points to the need for proactive policies to address malnutrition. “It’s not enough just to make sure people have more money and access to cheaper food and assume they will act like robots,” he says.

The report outlines a number of cost-­effective initiatives, including promoting breastfeeding in hospitals, providing nutrient supplements to women and disseminating seed varieties high in iron and zinc.

The report also points to what it calls the “double burden” of obesity and under­nutrition.

A recent study found that in 14 countries, more than 20% of women were overweight and more than 5% were obese. The problem extends to their children.

In 2010, estimates put the number of overweight African children at 8.5%, double what it was in 1990.

Urbanisation, more sedentary lifestyles and diets high in calories but low in nutrients are pushing up body weights and putting more people at risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. ●

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