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Malnutrition: a pervasive problem, but one that can be fixed

Malnutrition: a pervasive problem, but one that can be fixed

Across the world, malnutrition is pervasive and widespread. Many of us associate malnutrition as only being a problem in countries on the brink of famine, but in fact it is experienced in one way or another by nearly every country on earth. In our region, it is a critical issue for many Pacific countries, impacting health and social and economic development.

However, this is an issue that the world actually has the ability to fix.

According to the recently released 2018 Global Nutrition Report, we are now in a better position to tackle malnutrition globally than we have ever been. For example, we now know more about what people eat, why it matters, and what needs to be done to improve diets. Across the world we are seeing the benefits of well-funded nutrition plans, with strong nutrition targets championed by influential decision makers.

Yet we’re still significantly off-track in meeting nutrition targets.

Globally, malnutrition remains the world’s deadliest killer of young children, accounting for around 45 per cent of deaths among children under five, and 20 million babies being born underweight.

The magnitude of the malnutrition problem is amplified in the Pacific. Australians react with disbelief when I tell them that Papua New Guinea, our closest international neighbour, has the fourth highest child stunting rate in the world – with almost one in two children stunted. The stunting rates remain high across all Pacific countries, with the Global Report revealing that on average, 38 per cent of children under five in the region are stunted. This compares to 20 per cent globally.

The effects of malnutrition not only threaten the survival and development of over half a million children, it also poses a major threat to sustainable economic growth in PNG.