Following the Lancet Commission on Obesity’s report on the Global Syndemic, this series underlines the co-existence of undernutrition alongside overweight and obesity, otherwise known as ‘the double burden of malnutrition’. It presents a new reality in which the typical depictions of low-income countries being defined by undernutrition and high-income countries only being affected by obesity no longer stands.
The Series highlights the common denominator that underlies all forms of malnutrition: “food systems that fail to provide all people with healthy, safe, affordable, and sustainable diets”. It echoes the Syndemic report’s key message around the need to address the drivers that incentivise wealth over health in order to reverse the pandemics of obesity, undernutrition and climate change. The need for ‘double-duty’ and ‘triple-duty’ actions that tackle all forms of malnutrition in a sustainable way is reinforced.
Among children, the double burden is especially worrying. UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2019 report highlights the changing burden of malnutrition and the need for urgent action to reduce obesity, end hunger and improve the health of all children. The first global atlas on childhood obesity published by the World Obesity Federation also shows that no country has a better than fifty percent chance of meeting their target for tackling childhood obesity.
The Series demonstrates the perils of programmes ostensibly focused on preventing malnutrition, that neglect obesity and overweight. Looking ahead to the Nutrition for Growth Summit, it is vital that obesity is not overlooked as donors and others pledge seek to end malnutrition, in all its forms.
The remaining years in the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016–2025) are an opportunity to translate the evidence in this Series into tangible progress. In order to achieve this the voices of young people and people living with obesity will be vital. Stronger civil society led accountability mechanisms are also needed, requiring the nutrition, health and climate communities to come together with one voice to tackle the double burden and end malnutrition in all forms.