New Delhi: Millions of children dying or falling ill due to malnutrition in the Asia-Pacific region is leading to dire socio-economic consequences, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Tuesday.
In a statement released in Colombo, Sri Lanka, WHO was emphatic that malnutrition undermined economic growth and perpetuated poverty. It affected productivity by diminishing the capacity to do physical work and reduced earning ability.
"The double burden of malnutrition that is under-nutrition and overweight, with under-nutrition being more prominent in Asia, weakens people`s immune systems and heightens the risk of non-communicable diseases," the statement read.
Malnutrition accounts for 11 percent of global diseases, leading to long-term poor health and disability, as well as poor educational and development outcomes.
According to the statement, if simple measures like introducing complementary food items after six months and breastfeeding a child for up to two years were adopted, they would help greatly in avoiding about 20 percent of deaths among children under five.
A three-day discussion on scaling up nutrition levels in children will commence Wednesday in Colombo, in which health experts and policy-makers from the Asia-Pacific region will participate.
WHO Regional Director for Western Pacific, Shin Young-soo, said nutrition played a major role in cognitive and intelligent quotient development. It could further encourage a person to break the shackles of poverty.
"People with adequate nutrition are more productive and can create opportunities to gradually break the cycles of poverty and hunger," Shin said.
Under-nutrition contributes to about a third of all child deaths, and impairs healthy development and life-long productivity. When combined with inadequate sanitation, it leads to frequent diarrhoeal diseases.
About 71 million children in Asia are estimated to be underweight, according to WHO.
In comparison, being overweight contributes to chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other diet-related conditions.
Global estimates suggest that over 40 million children under the age of five are overweight.