Good nutrition in women is based on the adequate, balanced intake and utilization of nutrients. Malnutrition is characterized by insufficient or excessive intake of protein, energy, and/or vitamins and the frequent infections and disorders that result.1 One of the largest threats to public health on a global basis, malnutrition is also the single-largest contributor to disease in the world.2
The Global Burden of Malnutrition in Women1
The importance of food and nutrition in human development is widely recognized in both high-income and middle- to low-income countries. Malnutrition in all its forms imposes an intolerable burden not only on national health systems but also on the entire cultural, social, and economic fabric of nations, and is the greatest impediment to the fulfilment of human potential. Investing in nutrition in women therefore makes economic sense because it reduces healthcare costs, improves productivity and economic growth, and promotes education, intellectual capacity, and social development for present and future generations.
- Maternal undernutrition, common in many developing countries, leads to poor fetal development and higher risk of pregnancy complications. Together, maternal and child undernutrition account for more than 10% of the global burden of disease.
- A key indicator of chronic malnutrition is stunting—when children are too short for their age group compared to the WHO child growth standards. According to 2011 figures, about 165 million children globally are stunted as a result of not enough food, a vitamin- and mineral-poor diet, inadequate child care, and disease. As growth slows, brain development lags, and stunted children learn poorly. Stunting rates among children are highest in Africa and Asia. In eastern Africa, 42% were affected as of 2011.
- Wasting is a severe form of malnutrition resulting from acute food shortages and compounded by illness. About 1.5 million children die annually due to wasting. Rising food prices, food scarcity in areas of conflict, and natural disasters diminish household access to appropriate and adequate food, all of which can lead to wasting. Wasting demands emergency nutritional interventions to save lives.
- Essential vitamins and minerals in the diet are vital to boost immunity and healthy development. Vitamin A, zinc, iron, and iodine deficiencies are primary public-health concerns. About 2 billion people are affected by inadequate iodine nutrition worldwide. More than one-third of preschool-age children globally are vitamin A-deficient, a leading cause of preventable blindness.
- Nutritional problems in adolescents start during childhood and continue into adult life. Anemia is a key nutritional issue in adolescent girls. Preventing early pregnancies and assuring adequate intake of essential nutrients in developing girls can reduce subsequent maternal and child deaths and stop the cycle of malnutrition from one generation to the next. Globally, anemia affects 42% of pregnant women.
- The rise in overweight and obesity worldwide is a major public-health challenge. People of all ages and backgrounds face this form of malnutrition. As a consequence, rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other diet-related conditions are escalating worldwide.