Economic development and empowerment of populations across the world has led into substantial improvement in health of populations across many parts of the world. Nevertheless, it is recognized that the increasing epidemic of chronic diseases is related to nutrition and lifestyle behaviors. Nutrition plays a fundamental role in maintaining health and wellness. Nutrition and eating behaviors directly influence a number of personal health issues that later directly determine the quality of life of individuals and healthcare systems. However, the increasing significance of nutrition and eating behaviors nowadays is associated with how they influence various health conditions such as obesity, chronic diseases, malnutrition, and aging. This paper explores and describes the impact of nutrition on the health of people by carrying out an extensive review of relevant literature on the importance of nutrition, with a particular focus on the rise in noncommunicable diseases.
My perception is that despite various advances across the world, nutrition problems still persist at all levels of our societies as can be witnessed by continuously interacting factors like “poverty, ignorance and disease, inadequate food supplies, unhealthy environments, social stress and discrimination” (Leathers & Fosters, 2009, p. 38). I am also of the perception that food does not necessarily translate into nutrition; instead, these two are different aspects. The aim of the paper is to show, by use of examples and statistics, how nutrition affects the underdeveloped countries, as well as developed countries.
Malnutrition in developed and developing countries
Malnutrition is a nutrition related condition that results from consumption of too little, too much, or an unbalanced diet devoid of essential nutrients that are needed for good nutritional status (Kennedy, 2008). While developed nations are predominantly faced with nutrition issues related to excess or imbalances, problems of under-nutrition in various forms remain the commonest in the universe. Malnutrition is considered to be the major risk factor for disease and death across the world, especially among pregnant women and children. It is estimated that over I billion people across the world, mostly in developing nations, are affected by malnutrition (Kennedy, 2008). These individuals are either experiencing starvation or consuming foods that do not contain essential nutrients to enhance their health. These increased malnutrition rates put many people at an increased vulnerability to develop nutrition-related diseases and high mortality rates.
According to Leathers and Foster (2009), 35 percent of all childhood mortality is as a result of under-nutrition, implying that under-nutrition is the major cause of childhood mortality across the world. Lack of nutritious food jeopardizes a person’s health severely, thereby affecting the quality of life with consequences such as underweight, lowered immunity, loss of productivity, and mental retardation. These consequences are severer in children. Under-nutrition in early childhood as reflected by low birth weight is closely associated with a higher risk for obesity, high blood pressure, abdominal fat, and raised mortality from cardiovascular conditions. A number of studies have shown that the prevalence of these nutritional related chronic disorders are increasing rapidly across many areas of the world. The World Health Organization reports indicate that almost the entire universe is witnessing an obesity epidemic, with obesity and starvation occurring alongside each other. These reports also indicate that the prevalence of diabetes in the world is about 150 million, and this prevalence is estimated to increase twofold by the year 2025 (WHO, 2010).
Interaction of malnutrition and infectious diseases contributes to the high mortality and morbidity rates in children in developing countries. Infectious diseases negatively affect the nutritional status of the people, leading to high fatality rates (WHO, 2010). Malnutrition lowers the immune status of people, meaning that individuals experiencing malnutrition cannot mount an effective immune response against diseases caused by viruses, bacteria and other microbes. Such people are more vulnerable to infections and death.
Nutrition and noncommunicable diseases
Nutrition related chronic diseases form the main causes of morbidity and mortality in developed nations. Poor eating behaviors coupled with sedentary lifestyles are the leading causes of obesity. Obesity increases people’s vulnerability to chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, and some malignant conditions. It also reduces human longevity. Poor eating behaviors are also associated with weight control problems, low self-esteem, and overall low quality of life. According to Kennedy (2008), the world is currently witnessing an epidemiological transition that is characterized by an increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases and a decreasing prevalence of infectious diseases. Kennedy further indicates that over 60 percent of mortality cases worldwide are attributed to non-communicable diseases, in addition to contributing to about 46 percent of the global disease burden. Kennedy relates this epidemiologic transition with another occurrence called nutritional transition, whereby “dietary patterns have shifted with traditional grain-based diets being replaced by what is referred to as western diet, one with more variety, animal products, fats and sugars” (Kennedy, 2008, p. 122).
While most chronic diseases associated with nutrition were perceived to be localized in developed countries, an emerging trend where the incidence of such diseases is increasing in developing countries has been noticed. According to (Kopelman, 2010), 79 percent of mortality cases due to chronic illnesses are taking place in developing countries. A shift from nutritional issues related to poverty and under-nutrition to nutritional issues related to over-nutrition and affluence is on the increase in the developing countries. For instance, obesity is one complex nutritional condition that is associated with devastating social and psychological effects. Obesity problem permeates across the population of different age, social and economic standings. While obesity was previously more prevalent in developed countries like the US, this condition has become a global phenomenon with high incidences being reported worldwide. Obesity, therefore, affects people in developed and developing countries. It is estimated that close to 1.5 billion adults are obese globally (Popkin, Adair & Ng, 2012).
Implications of nutritional issues
The shifting dietary patterns coupled with adoption of sedentary lifestyles has created a situation where issues to do with starvation and under-nutrition exist concurrently with chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular conditions, mostly referred to as non-communicable diseases. This has created “double disease burden” in both developed and developing countries (Popkin, Adair & Ng, 2012, p. 8). The double disease burden carries major implications in the world in terms of health, productivity and healthcare costs. These implications are, however, more pronounced in developing countries.
Malnutrition affects all societies, leading to consequences such as low educational achievements, retarded growth and increased vulnerability to illnesses. The coexistence of various nutritional conditions in most countries also demonstrates the public health challenges dominant in the society. Advances in nutrition and proper utilization of knowledge offer excellent opportunities for enhancing the lives of people by directing efforts at combating the global burden of malnutrition.
Kennedy, E. (2008). The global nutrition agenda: 2008 and beyond. Brown Journal of World Affairs, 15(I), 121-134.
Kopelman, P. (2010). Symposium 1: Overnutrition: consequences and solutions. Foresight report: the obesity challenge ahead. Proceedings of Nutritional Society, 69, 80-85.
Leathers, H. & Foster, P. (2009). The world food problem: toward ending undernutrition in the third world. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc.
Popkin, B. M., Adair, L. S., & Ng, S. W. (2012). Global nutrition transition and the pandemic of obesity in developing countries. Nutritional Reviews, 70(1): 3-21.
WHO (2011). Global status Report on noncommunicable diseases 2010. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health organization.