Press Release

The Asia Pacific Regional Report on Food Safety and Nutrition points at stagnation in combating hunger and malnutrition in the Region

27 November 2018

  • The Asia and Pacific region accounts for well over half of the world’s undernourished – nearly half a billion people (486 million). The region is home to more than half of the world’s malnourished children.  

The Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2018, launched in Mongolia today, indicates an overall rise in the prevalence of hunger worldwide, returning to levels from a decade ago and points at stagnation in combating hunger and malnutrition in Asia and the Pacific.

The report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and initially released on 2 November, highlights a number of converging challenges that threaten to undermine the Sustainable Development Goal to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030 (SDG 2) in Asia and the Pacific. 

The Asia and Pacific region accounts for well over half of the world’s undernourished – nearly half a billion people (486 million). The region is home to more than half of the world’s malnourished children.  Malnutrition covers a broad spectrum and affects people of all ages – ranging from severe undernutrition to overweight and obesity – but children in particular, continue to bear the burden. In this region, 79 million children, or one child in every four below the age of five, suffers from stunting and 34 million children are wasting, 12 million of whom suffer from severe acute malnutrition with drastically increased risk of death. While some significant progress has been made towards a reduction of stunting, there has been little improvement in wasting during the past decade.

The multiple burden of malnutrition leads to a colossal human loss given the association between undernutrition and poor cognitive development, with severe lifelong consequences for the future of these children. This also results in economic losses to a nation’s economy due to missed opportunities of human potential. The report points out that, from a cost-benefit perspective, many nutrition interventions can result in a return of USD 16 for every dollar invested.

Incidences of climate-related disasters have been rising in the region. Natural disasters impact food security and nutrition through reduced food production, which can then cascade down to the entire food value chain, affecting livelihoods and causing economic and agricultural loss. Beyond the short term, disasters can impact the agriculture sector through loss of assets and rural infrastructure, and through increased disease outbreaks. FAO estimates that Asia suffered a staggering loss of USD 48 billion during 2005-2015. Countries need to adapt agriculture to become more resilient to climate related events and to mitigate the damage they can cause.

Limited or poor access to safe food and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is another of the key drivers of malnutrition among children.

The report also highlights the almost paradoxical reality of an increase in obesity of both children and adults in the region. The region is now home to the fastest growing prevalence of childhood obesity in the world. An estimated 14.5 million children under five are overweight and virtually all children in the region are increasingly exposed to cheap, unhealthy processed foods high in salt, sugar and fat but poor in essential nutrients. 

As migration from rural to urban areas continues apace, particularly involving poorer families, urban malnutrition is another challenge facing many countries. At the current rate of urbanization, by 2030, more than 55 percent of the Asian population will be living in cities and towns. While urbanization can bring economic opportunity, the growth is often not equitable and is associated with a concurrent prevalence of high and sustained undernutrition in children with rapidly rising rates of obesity in children and adults.

FACTS in Mongolia (source: Mongolia National Nutrition Survey IV and V)

·         Poverty rate is 29.6% (WB est.)

·         very poor vitamin D status with 90% of children under 5 years, 95% of pregnant women, and 82% of men having insufficient vitamin D levels. In all regions and socio-economic groups a high percentage of adults and children lack in vitamin D

·         the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency and insufficiency in children under 5 years was found to be elevated across country

·         27% of children 2-59 months and 21% of pregnant women anaemic and 21% of children 6-59 months and 30% of pregnant women iron deficient

·         overweight is high in all regions and population groups in Mongolia with 46% of women and 49% of men.

o   The prevalence of overweight increased most dramatically in school age children from 4.3% in the 2010 NNS IV to 28.6% in the NNS V with nearly 1 in 4 overweight children obese (6.4%) and over 1 in 3 school age children overweight in Ulaanbaatar (34%). Prevalence of overweight begins at young age with 12% of children under 5 years of age overweight

·         The prevalence of severe food insecurity in the population:

o   based on the Household Food Insecurity Access Scale (HFIAS): high household food insecurity in all regions with 65% of households having some level of food insecurity and 23% having severe food insecurity with hunger

§  food insecurity was highest in Khangai, with 80% of households classified as food insecure and 25% severely food insecure, and in Ulaanbaatar, with 68% of households food insecure and 27% severely food insecure

·         In the NNS V, stunted children had a significantly higher prevalence of overweight (20.5%) compared to children with normal height (11.0%).

·         Food insecurity is a leading cause of undernutrition globally, with the NNS V confirming the association between household food insecurity and poor nutrition status in Mongolian children. There was a significantly higher prevalence of child stunting, wasting, and low birth weight among children under 5 years of age living in food insecure households compared to food secure households.

·         In rural areas, 20% of the population lacks access to safe drinking water and one-third of the overall population lacks access to improved sanitation, both indicators highly associated with child malnutrition

·         Targeted food security and nutrition-focused social protection measures, such as the food stamp programme which was shown to be successful in reducing vulnerability of poor households to food shortages, should be reformed and strengthened to ensure the most vulnerable households.

·         Acting early transforms may be the way we manage disasters:

o   In Mongolia, the analysis, Return on Investment study, was conducted focused on two key FAO interventions – reducing herds in return for cash and distributing feed early when a localised dzud was forecast.

The study measured the ratio between the direct benefits of the early actions and cost of actions to implement on the ground. The result showed that  7.1 benefit to cost ratio.

UN entities involved in this initiative

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
United Nations Children’s Fund
World Health Organization

Goals we are supporting through this initiative