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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

UNC: Twin Presence of Obesity and Undernutrition Reflects Shifts in Global Food Systems

Being undernourished or overweight are no longer separate public health issues.

A new approach is needed to help low- and middle-income countries reduce obesity and undernutrition at the same time as the issues become increasingly connected, according to the first paper in a 4-paper report published in The Lancet.

“We are facing a new nutrition reality where major food system changes have led the poorest countries to have high levels of overweight and obesity along with undernutrition,” says Dr. Barry M. Popkin, lead author of the first paper and W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. “Our research shows that overweight and obesity levels of at least  percent among adults are found in all low-income countries. Furthermore, the double burden of high levels of both undernutrition and overweight occurs primarily in the lowest-income countries — a reality that is driven by the modern food system.”

Globally, estimates suggest that almost 2.3 billion children and adults are overweight, and more than 150 million children are stunted. In low- and middle-income countries, however, these emerging issues overlap in individuals, families and communities. The first paper explores the trends behind this intersection — known as the double burden of malnutrition — as well as the societal and food system changes that may be causing it, its biological explanation and effects, and policy measures that may help address malnutrition in all its forms.

Among other findings, survey results showed that more than a third of low- and middle-income countries had overlapping forms of malnutrition. The problem was particularly common in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and east Asia and the Pacific.

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