Fighting the Global Impact of Malnutrition

Tackling the global issue of malnutrition requires collaboration and transformative nutrition care.

Fighting the Global Impact of Malnutrition

Food is essential for our health and well-being. It's nourishment for our bodies that can support healthy growth and development in kids and help sustain good health in adults. When people don't receive the right nutrients in the right amounts, or are malnourished, it can have a devasting impact and lead to serious health conditions.

Malnutrition impacts billions of people — both children and adults. It isn't just a problem of extreme poverty — it affects all communities around the world and takes shape in many forms:

While the prevalence of malnutrition can be seen throughout the world, the impact and needs vary from region to region. Africa is still experiencing staggering rates of undernutrition as the number of undernourished people is growing faster there than in any other region of the world. Stunting and wasting among children have declined in southeast Asia and Latin America, but the regions are experiencing worsening obesity rates due to changing food consumption habits. The prevalence of obesity has tripled in many European countries in the past four decades; and in the United States, 1 in 5 children and more than 1 in 3 adults struggle with obesity.

Due to rising incomes and urbanization, many countries are facing the double burden of malnutrition with increasing rates of obesity as well as undernutrition. Beyond malnutrition's impact on health, it's estimated that malnutrition costs the global economy up to $3.5 trillion a year, impacting the social and economic development of countries around the world.

Children are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of malnutrition as it impacts their ability to grow — cognitively and physically — to their full potential. Poor nutrition can lead to deficits in energy, protein or micronutrients; and it can negatively affect physical growth, intellectual development and academic attainment. Obesity can lead to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, with people being diagnosed even at young ages.

Factors Contributing to Malnutrition
Food insecurity and lack of access to healthy food are contributing factors to malnutrition. Additionally, shifting cultural trends which focus on convenience and on-the-go eating have increased the consumption of unhealthy foods that contain few nutrients and many calories. This can increase obesity and cause micronutrient deficiencies as people consume less healthy food due to availability, cost and convenience.

Malnutrition has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated health disparities in many countries. As the pandemic disrupted global food supply chains and caused economic shockwaves, more people are facing food security challenges. It's estimated that an additional 83-132 million people globally will face undernourishment as a result of the pandemic. Lack of access to nutritious foods during the pandemic is also driven by disruptions to the infrastructure where many people receive food support such as schools, food banks or clinics. Likewise, the ability to identify and treat undernourishment, particularly in children, also decreased during the pandemic as children were not regularly attending school in person or being seen by healthcare professionals.

Solving this global problem requires collaboration across key stakeholders such as government, non-profits, private and public organizations, and community groups to reach the people who are most affected. Solutions come in many forms — including research, education, nutrition interventions and policy changes — and must be relevant to the local and regional needs.

Our Efforts to Address Malnutrition
The goal of our 2030 Sustainability Plan is to improve the lives of more than 3 billion people by decade's end. We'll accomplish that by designing access and affordability into our life-changing technologies and products and working to solve health challenges like malnutrition.

Through global initiatives, we are focused on improving access to nutrition, intervention and education that leads to healthier communities. Every year, the Abbott Nutrition Health Institute's Global Growth Summit brings together the world's top experts to share best practices and the latest trends in nutrition as part of a collaborative effort to address challenges in childhood growth and nutrition.

Research plays a key role in helping us better understand nutrition's impact on health outcomes. Abbott's SHIELD Study, conducted with Changi General Hospital (CGH) and SingHealth Polyclinics (SHP) in Singapore, evaluated the association between nutrition and health outcomes in the elderly. The results: improved nutritional intake reduced the risk of malnutrition by nearly three times and promoted better health.

Additionally, Abbott's U.S.-based research with Advocate Health Care and the University of Southern California found that prioritizing nutrition care for people at risk of malnutrition — whether in the hospital, receiving home healthcare or those at home receiving outpatient care — can improve recovery time, reduce hospitalization rates and reduce healthcare costs.

Supporting healthcare professionals to transform malnutrition care is also a key aspect of addressing malnutrition. Abbott partnered with Children's Mercy Research Institute, Children International and Hallmark to develop and distribute the MUAC z-score tape. Recognized among Fast Company's 2021 World Changing ideas, the MUAC (mid-upper arm circumference) z-score tape is an inexpensive, paper-based device that resembles a traditional measuring tape with indicators that signal malnutrition risk in children. Early identification is an important first step in addressing malnutrition so that kids can receive the right nutrition care to support their health. To date, more than 4,500 clinicians have been trained to use this tool and more than 18,000 tapes have been distributed around the world.

Abbott also has partnered with international organizations to increase access to nutritional products and healthcare, including:

  • Worked with PATH, a leading international organization focused on innovation, to develop and distribute Ultra Rice to children in India. Ultra Rice blends traditional rice, a staple crop in India, with micronutrients to help combat malnutrition among children in the country.
  • Joined efforts with Partners In Health and its Haitian sister organization, Zanmi Lasante, to design and build a locally-supported facility in Haiti to produce Nourimanba, a highly nutritious, peanut-based treatment for severely malnourished children.
  • Partnering with the Rwandan Ministry of Health and nonprofit organization Society for Family Health to increase access to healthcare and nutrition by developing health posts that support rural communities in Rwanda.

A collaborative approach to healthcare that prioritizes nutrition and addresses local needs is critical in tackling malnutrition. The best healthcare solutions — be it nutritious food, universal nutrition screening, education, or intervention, as well as ongoing research and innovation — are those that reach the people who need them and lead to better health outcomes.

 

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