Global WACh

December 19, 2019

Dr. Carol Levin and health experts call for action to improve global food supply and protect children’s health against the double burden of malnutrition

In a new Series in The Lancet, Dr. Carol Levin (Health Economist and Associate Professor, Global Health) and experts led by the World Health Organization (WHO) explore how the double burden of malnutrition (DBM), the coexistence of undernutrition and overnutrition, affects a third of low- and middle-income countries.  The four paper Series warns of a global nutrition crisis, with countries struggling with high rates of obesity alongside the long-standing challenge of hunger.  Malnutrition in all its forms can lead to poor health outcomes, including impaired childhood development and diet-related non-communicable diseases.

The historical approach to address undernutrition and overnutrition separately from one another is no longer sustainable in this rapidly changing nutrition environment.  The authors call for action by global health leaders and multi-sectoral stakeholders to adapt to a new reality and integrate 10 identified “double-duty actions”—interventions, programs, and policies—that have the potential to simultaneously prevent and reduce DBM.  The drivers of these actions include food environments and systems (eg, agricultural production, trade, retail, climate change), and individuals’ dietary intake and socioeconomic factors.  In addition to policy recommendations, the Series includes a focus on both historical and biological contexts, and new economic analysis.  Click here to read all four papers in The Lancet Series.

Dr. Levin co-authored the fourth paper of the Series, “Economic effects of the double burden of malnutrition,” which highlights the need to measure economic losses caused by DBM in the form of lost wages, productivity, and higher medical expenses.  Economic evaluations can inform the development of duty-duty actions that address stunted growth, and overweight and obesity together, rather than separately. The paper presents evidence of the costs and benefits of a double-duty intervention that addresses both stunting and overweight in children aged 4 years and older by providing school meals with a high-quality diet.  Such interventions could save money and be more efficient than single-duty interventions.  Read the full paper here.