A new report from the UN says the absolute number of Asians suffering from hunger has stagnated, while at the same time obesity increases across the globe.

While Asia and the Pacific region’s economy is growing, the region is still battling hunger according to the latest report from the United Nations (UN). The report revealed that 486 million of the region’s population are suffering from malnutrition.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report released on Friday stated that even in booming capitals such as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, impoverished families could not afford to buy appropriate food for their kids, leading to long-term health risks that could severely impact their future and livelihood.

In Bangkok, more than one-third of children did not eat an adequate and nutritious diet as of 2017. While only four percent of children in Pakistan could get a ‘minimally acceptable diet’.

Over the last three years, the absolute number of undernourished people in the region has stagnated at around 486 million or 11.5 percent of the population. Between 2005 and 2014, the region was consistently improving and decreasing those numbers but the recent stagnation has dismayed officials.

“After all those years of gains in fighting hunger and malnutrition in Asia and the Pacific we now find ourselves at a virtual standstill,” said Kundhavi Kadiresanh, an FAO Regional Director. “We have to pick up the pace.”

FAO data also shows that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted or lost annually, while more than 800 million are hungry worldwide.

In 2017 according to the World Food Program (WFP), around 124 million in 51 countries “experienced high levels of food insecurity” – an increase of 11 million people compared to the previous year. Food insecurity is defined by the WFP’s report as “hunger so severe that it poses an immediate threat to lives or livelihoods.”

Hunger, Clean Water and Sanitation

The report focused on the importance of providing clean drinking water and sufficient sanitation to combating diseases that can harm health, especially in children. In Indonesia, for example, the FAO cited a study which found the prevalence of stunted growth is closely correlated to the access to improved latrines.

The FAO report also found that while many poor residents in Southeast Asia rely heavily on bottled water for drinking, the bottled water itself is often contaminated as well. A sample study in Cambodia revealed that 80 percent of bottled water contained bacteria and most of them had coliform or fecal contamination.

At the same time, more than one in eight adults in Asia are now obese, with Asia and the Pacific recording the most rapid growth of child obesity prevalence due to the increased consumption of processed foods containing high levels of fat, sugar, and salt.

From 2000 to 2016, the number of overweight children younger than five increased 38 percent in Asia and the Pacific, the FAO reported in April.

A report from the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) in April found obesity costs countries in the Asia-Pacific region around $ 166 billion per year. Ironically, at the same time, they are struggling to fight against malnutrition.

Rapid urbanization is one of the main factors that cause both obesity and malnutrition in Asia and the Pacific.

“The region has undergone economic growth, so food has become available at a relatively cheaper price,” said Matthias Helble, an economist at the ADBI in Tokyo who has researched obesity levels in the region for three years.

The number of obese children in Indonesia, for example, rose threefold, according to a global study released by the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2017. They then become more vulnerable to life-threatening diseases when they grow up such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

“We have more processed food, more energy-dense food, more intense marketing of food products, and these products are more available and more accessible,” said Dr. Ashkan Afshin, assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. “The food environment seems to be the main driver of obesity.”

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