The findings are not a surprise, said two Texas Tech University scientists who have
studied global nutrition and seen its effects.
One third of people on Earth suffer from malnutrition, with the spectrum running from
not having enough food to not getting sufficient nutrients from food to being overweight
or obese, according to the second annual Global Nutrition Report, released in late September.
Those findings are not a surprise, said two Texas Tech University scientists who have
studied global nutrition and seen its effects on people and societies in dozens of
countries. Mary Murimi and Wilna (pronounced Vil-nah) Oldewage-Theron see malnutrition
in all its forms in every country, ranging from African nations to Indian slums to
cities in the United States. They are not surprised by how little is being done about
the malnutrition crisis, which both attributed not to a lack of resources but to a
lack of priorities among a country’s leaders.
Murimi consulted on malnutrition in her native Kenya before coming to Texas Tech.
She watched as families harvest mangoes, greens and eggs on their small farms, sold
them at the market and used the money to buy white bread, sugar, flour and soda. She
also worked in Louisiana, where she focused on the obesity and overweight aspect of
the malnutrition spectrum, and has studied malnutrition in other African countries.
Oldewage-Theron spent 18 years in her native South Africa doing community nutrition
and education. She went into rural and frequently poor communities and assessed their
nutritional needs, then suggested solutions to the community leaders, including supplements,
nutrition education, gardening and other ways to deal with food insecurity.
Although she is not surprised at the rate of malnutrition in general, she is surprised
a country like Kenya, which is technologically advanced and has a well-educated population
and a good economy, is one of the 34 countries with the highest rate of malnutrition.
“I realized malnutrition is poverty supplemented by a lack of knowledge.”
Often a country’s leaders do not prioritize malnutrition or nutrition adequacy for
all members of the country, so resources are expended elsewhere. For example, she
has met people so poor they don’t have permanent housing or sufficient clothing or
food, but they have cell phones.
In addition to lack of priority by policymakers, “the voices of the malnourished children
are silent. Leaders are not encountering the faces of malnutrition on a daily basis.”
Lack of infrastructure in developing countries can contribute to malnutrition among
vulnerable groups. For example, in rural parts of the world, with poor roads and no
irrigation, food can neither be grown nor easily trucked in. In the deserts of Kenya,
the roads are too bad for distributors to truck in food, and they can’t grow anything
because there is no water. These conditions contribute to malnutrition, but strategic
policies could address that problem through constructing all-weather roads and providing
incentives for food distribution to marginalized areas.
“We used to think of obesity was a disease of the affluent. We’re finding now it’s
more in poor society, and that is because of food insecurity survival. When a mother
doesn’t have enough food, she gets what’s affordable, which often is food in nutrients
and higher in calories.”
Although some developing countries do suffer from a lack of resources, including knowledge,
capital and human resources, many have enough natural resources to make strides in
reducing malnutrition. In Africa, where Oldewage-Theron has done most of her work,
many countries are plagued with natural disasters and human conflict that reduce agricultural
opportunities and lead to greater food insecurity
Malnutrition is not always visible. A starving or obese child can be categorized,
but nutrition deficiencies caused by eating calorie-dense, nutrient-deficient foods
such as cereal-based or junk food, is noticeable primarily in behavior, which an untrained
person may not recognize.
“There is enough food in the world for everybody.”
There is a significant amount of food wasted in every country. In the United States
and other developed countries, most food is wasted at the consumer level; it goes
bad in people’s refrigerators. In developing countries, more food is spoiled at the
production and processing level because they lack infrastructure like cold storage,
roads to transport goods to markets and processing plants.
Obesity and being overweight also contribute to malnutrition because of the negative
effects these conditions have on a person’s health. Additionally, it is not uncommon
to see an overweight or obese person who experiences “undernutrition” because he or
she is not getting sufficient nutrients from food.
Highlights from the report
“Good nutrition signals the realization of people’s rights to food and health. … Without
good nutrition, human beings cannot achieve their full potential. When people’s nutrition
status improves, it helps break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, generates
broad-based economic growth and leads to a host of benefits for individuals, families,
communities and countries.”
“Malnutrition takes many forms: children and adults who are skin and bone, children
who do not grow properly, people who suffer because their diets are imbalanced, and
people who are obese or suffer from nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases. …
Nearly half of all countries face multiple serious burdens of malnutrition such as
poor child growth, micronutrient deficiency and adult overweight.”
According to the World Health Organization, 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese,
42 million children are overweight, 161 million children 5 years or younger are too
short, and 51 million children don’t weigh enough. One in 12 adults has Type 2 diabetes.
Countries that have made progress have created a political environment conducive to
nutrition-improving actions, made committed investments in high-impact, cost-effective
nutrition interventions and adopted policies in a wide range of economic and social
sectors expected to contribute to nutrition advancement.
The College of Human Sciences at Texas Tech University provides multidisciplinary education, research and service
focused on individuals, families and their environments for the purpose of improving
and enhancing the human condition.
The college offers a Bachelor of Science degree with disciplines in:
Apparel Design and Manufacturing
Community, Family, and Addiction Services
Family and Consumer Sciences
Human Development and Family Studies
Personal Financial Planning
Restaurant, Hotel, and Institutional Management
The college also offers graduate programs leading to the Master of Science and Doctor
of Philosophy degrees.