WHO: breastfeeding helps against malnutrition and obesity

One in three developing or emerging countries is suffering from severe malnutrition or obesity. The World Health Organisation (WHO) advocates a different approach. Breastfeeding plays a vital role in this.

A new report, published yesterday in The Lancet, says that almost 2.3 billion children and adults worldwide are overweight and more than 150 million children are underweight. The authors of the study warn that malnutrition and obesity can also have adverse effects across generations.

Whole food chain under the microscope

“We’re dealing with a new reality in the field of nutrition,” says WHO Director and lead author of the study, Francesco Branca. “The time when we could only associate the population in low-income countries with malnutrition and those in overweight high-income countries is over.”

“All forms of weight problems have one common denominator: food systems that are unable to provide sufficient healthy and affordable food. This has to change, and that requires a far-reaching change in both production and processing, pricing, marketing, consumption, and food wastage,” says Branca.

Breastfeeding for two years

The report makes recommendations to combat both malnutrition and obesity. One of the advice is to breastfeed your baby as much as possible during the first two years. Furthermore, fruit, vegetables, seeds, and grains should be the central part of the daily diet, and much less energy should come from meat, sugar, fats, and salt.

The authors of the report point out that previous studies on nutrition rarely took into account several crucial factors such as nutrition at a very young age, the quality of the food, and specific socioeconomic factors. Indeed, some programs that have attempted to tackle malnutrition have inadvertently increased the risk of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases.

Healthy food is a priority

According to the WHO, both malnutrition and obesity can be prevented by paying more attention to prenatal care and breastfeeding, social welfare, and new agricultural and food policies that make healthy food a priority.

“Without a thorough transformation of the entire food system, an inactive generation will have enormous economic, social, and environmental costs,” concludes Branca. “The growth and development of individuals and communities will be hindered for decades.”

According to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, all countries must end hunger and malnutrition by 2030. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.

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