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Fighting Hunger Today May Halt Obesity - UN

Fighting Hunger Today May Halt Obesity And Soaring Health Costs Tomorrow - UN

Reducing hunger and undernourishment in pregnant women and children now could prevent them from becoming overweight and obese and reduce associated health costs in later life, according to a study released today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

With obesity identified as a main cause of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the study compiles a growing body of empirical evidence suggesting that hunger during pregnancy "programmes" foetal tissues to get the most out of the food energy available, leading to overnourishment in adult life when coupled with greater food availability and a more sedentary lifestyle.

Many developing countries currently face these conditions, with potentially dramatic impact in the future, the agency said. Hunger today and more food availability tomorrow will mean that many will shift from hunger to obesity and become vulnerable to one of the related NCDs, such as diabetes and coronary heart disease.

“The message is clear: all efforts that help fight hunger today and improve the nutritional situation of women during their reproductive age have the potential to yield an extra dividend tomorrow,” the Rome-based FAO said.

“This is particularly important in developing countries, where ‘prenatal programming’ is likely to lead to overweight, obesity and increased susceptibility to NCDs in a less austere later life,” it added.

The economic and healthcare costs of NCDs are already high in developed countries. In the United States alone they have risen to over $120 billion annually. These economic problems will be felt more in developing countries as falling real prices for food, rising incomes and rapidly increasing urbanization change nutrition patterns.

Diets in many developing countries are approaching energy and protein intake levels that have for long been limited to consumers in developed countries, the study says. But while people in more advanced countries may be able to cope with the associated costs, the story is very different in developing countries where many people will not be able to pay for medical treatment.

Globally, diets are getting worse, FAO notes. People in 36 per cent of all countries consume more than the recommended 300 milligrams per person a day of cholesterol, more than twice the rate of the early 1960s, while, 34 per cent exceed the 30 per cent threshold of fat in the diet, compared to 18 per cent 40 years ago.

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