UNICEF’s report entitled ‘The State of World’s Children 2019: Children, Food and Nutrition’ brings a disturbing fact about Nepali children: some 43 percent of children under five years are either stunted or wasted or overweight in Nepal. According to the report, one in every two Nepali children under two years is eating a poor diet.
Though nearly half of the children are malnourished, says the report, obesity among children and adolescents has increased in recent years. According to the report, obesity among children and adolescents (between the age of 5 and 19) has increased by 29 times in the past four decades globally and Nepal is no exception with one in 13 children and adolescents of this age being obese. Overweight and obesity increases with wealth and household food security.
Thus children in wealthy and urban families are more obese than in rural settings. Something is fundamentally wrong with the way Nepal and Nepali people are eating and feeding their children.
The report is also the reflection of the class divide in Nepali society. While a section of the society has access to abundant food, so much that they are bearing the obesity burden.
Another section of the society lives with such scarcity of food that they cannot adequately feed their children so that they can grow healthy. It is a given that both malnourishment and obesity are the greatest threats to human health globally. Obesity has been linked with cancer.
According to a recent report by American Cancer Society, cancers fueled by obesity are on the rise among young adults in the US. They include cancers related to colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, pancreatic and multiple myeloma and bone marrow. Nepali obese children may as well be susceptible to such diseases.
On the other hand, there are more than 820 million hungry people in the world. Around 45 percent of deaths among children under five years of age are linked to under-nutrition, according to World Health Organization, most of which occur in low-and middle-income countries like Nepal. Countries like Nepal need to fight both under-nourishment and obesity together.
It is not hard to understand how Nepal came to become the country where both obesity and undernourishment prevail. For one, changing lifestyles in the city areas have meant that people are leading sedentary life style, doing little or no exercise. Besides, more people eat junks than in the past without caring for the health consequences. While this is the situation in some of the urban areas and among some well-off class, vast majority of children in the rural areas still do not get enough food to eat because they lack access to food or their income is too low to be able to afford food. This could be solved with the state intervention for raising the income level of the rural poor. It is getting late to do something to strike a balance between malnutrition and obesity so that people do not have to die of abundance of food and lack of food.
The stakes are high. Lack of nourishment during childhood, various studies have established, leads to poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and even death. Abundance, it seems, does not keep us healthy either. Collective effort, from the government as well as other stakeholders, may save our children and ourselves from the epidemic of both undernourishment and obesity.