This is the only continent where children have both stunted growth and a rising obesity problem

Being screened for malnutrition.
Being screened for malnutrition.
Image: Reuters/Tiksa Negeri
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Africa is the only continent in the world where children are both fat and stunted.

According to the 2017 Global Nutrition report, the continent faces serious nutrition-related challenges, stemming from both a deficiency in nutrients and obesity. Despite a decrease in the prevalence of stunting globally, about 60 million African children under five are not growing properly. At least 10 million others are also classified as overweight—posing both a severe health burden on countries and hampering broader development efforts.

The report, which studied nutrition in 140 countries, said that population growth was a key contributing factor to stunting in the African continent. Many households—about 30%—also face food insecurity given the limited resources to purchase food. Even with expanding economies, increased food production and mounting food waste, for many Africans, that hasn’t translated into the provision of healthy nutrients and food necessary for growth.

The lack of nutritious food has come at a huge cost for African nations, affecting not only human well-being but also economic progress and infrastructure development. For children, improved nutrition advances one of the most essential forms of infrastructure, better known as “grey matter infrastructure” or brainpower.

With better mental capacity, societies are able to depend on the ingenuity of their populations to progress, as much as on their physical strength. Yet African nations still lag behind on achieving this, losing between 1.9% and 16% of the gross domestic product annually to under-nutrition due to increased mortality, absenteeism, chronic illnesses, and lost productivity.

However, ending malnutrition and improving dietary intake could help reverse this problem. The nutrition report says governments need to place nutrition at the heart of their efforts to end poverty, fight disease, raise educational standards, and tackle climate change. In Africa, this will include creating databases that track nutrition across different countries. Governments could also actively focus on agricultural diversity, ensuring that farmers produce more food with a lot more nutrients.