UN unveils action plan to tackle southeast Asia’s malnutrition double burden

By Gary Scattergood contact

- Last updated on GMT

Southeast Asia faces a double burden of malnutrition and obesity, often in the same communities. ©iStock
Southeast Asia faces a double burden of malnutrition and obesity, often in the same communities. ©iStock

Related tags: Southeast asia, Nutrition

The United Nations health agency has called for a whole-of-society approach to address the double burden of malnutrition which affects populations across southeast Asia, particularly women and girls.

According to the World Health Organization, across south-east Asia an estimated 60m children under the age of five are stunted, a condition characterised by reduced growth rate and development, while 8.8m are overweight.

Furthermore, thinness affects 24 to 47% of adolescent girls, while between two and 24% are overweight, and the prevalence of overweight or obesity among adult women ranges between 18 to 30%

“The current nutrition profile of the southeast Asia region is characterised by under-nutrition rates that are declining slowly alongside rapidly rising rates of overweight and obesity, often within the same communities, and even in the same households,”​ said the World Health Organization's (WHO​) regional director for the southeast Asia Region, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh.

“This double burden is depriving people of reaching their potential, and is fuelling rising rates of non-communicable diseases,” ​she added. “We need to mobilise multi-sectoral action to address the problem at the earliest opportunity.”

Highlighting that ending all forms of malnutrition is an important component of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development​, Dr. Khetrapal Singh said that the WHO, in consultation with its regional member countries​, had developed a strategic action plan to reduce the double burden of malnutrition. “This will provide the basis for action moving forward,”​ she noted.

Nutrition intervention

The plan will serve as an advocacy and reference tool for member countries that will ensure national interventions are comprehensive and evidence-based. It lays particular emphasis on promoting a supporting environment for nutrition interventions and securing multisectoral commitment to addressing the problem, including from the private sector.

Dr Khetrapal Singh said traditional determinants of malnutrition, which include inequality and inadequate care, economic growth and demographic changes and globalisation, have all altered the nutrition profile of the region and are providing challenges for policymakers.

Last week member countries discussed in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the trans-generational impact on future generations caused by maternal under nutrition as well as overweight and obesity resulting from inadequate and unhealthy eating habits and low physical activity.

The strategic action plan was adopted by member countries at the Sixty-ninth session of WHO Regional Committee, the highest decision-making body which includes health ministers and senior health ministry officials of the 11 member countries of the region – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

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