This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Trying to Balance Diet and Development

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that out of the seven billion humans alive right now, three billion of us are eating badly--one billion have too little to eat, another billion have enough calories but not good nutrition, and a third billion are malnourished in the sense that they eat too much and are obese. The Economist this week has a lengthy summary of the global situation, and it is neither a pretty nor a terribly hopeful picture.

Malnutrition is attracting attention now because the damage it does has only recently begun to sink in. The misery of lacking calories—bloated bellies, wasted limbs, the lethargy of famine—is easy to spot. So are the disastrous effects of obesity. By contrast, the ravages of inadequate nutrition are veiled, but no less dreadful.
More than 160m children in developing countries suffer from a lack of vitamin A; 1m die because they have weak immune systems and 500,000 go blind each year. Iron deficiency causes anaemia, which affects almost half of poor-country children and over 500m women, killing more than 60,000 of them each year in pregnancy. Iodine deficiency—easily cured by adding the stuff to salt—causes 18m babies each year to be born with mental impairments.
Malnutrition is associated with over a third of children’s deaths and is the single most important risk factor in many diseases. A third of all children in the world are underweight or stunted (too short for their age), the classic symptoms of malnourishment [note that these data come mainly from the Demographic and Health Surveys].

A major part of the problem is that nutrition is very complex and we humans are very good at preferring food that is not necessarily very good for us. To be sure, there are many projects underway to change the latter, especially, but it is not easy to imagine things changing very quickly.

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