Geneva: India has the highest number of children with "iron deficiency" in the world which contributes to low weight and a range of long-term health problems, the
World Health Organisation said today.
"India has highest iron deficiency in the world which results in babies born with low birth weight and associated health problems," said Prof Rebecca Stolzfus of Cornell
University and Members of the WHO expert group on nutrition.
"Lack of adequate nutritional iron in children results in low birth weight below 2.5 kgs and associated long-term health problems," she said.
The low birth weight babies born with iron deficiency are also the ones more easily exposed to the problem of over weight and obesity, which is a growing phenomenon in many developing countries. "The children born with iron deficiency suffer from a double-burden," said Dr Francesco Branca, WHO`s director of Nutrition for Health and
Around 30 per cent of newly born babies in India suffer from acute iron deficiency which is passed by their poor-health mothers who suffer from the same problem, he said.
In developing countries, every second pregnant woman and about 40 per cent pre-school children are estimated to be anaemic, while anaemia also contributes to 20 per cent of all
maternal deaths," the WHO said.
"Worldwide, malnutrition accounts for 11 per cent of all diseases and causes long-term poor health and disability," said Dr Branca, suggesting that some 43 million children aged under 5 years were overweight in 2010, with 35 million being in developing countries, particularly in Asia.
WHO convened a global workshop of experts on nutrition over the last three days to devise an action plan to address the growing threat of under-nutrition, obesity and overweight, micro-nutrient deficiency and other forms of malnutrition.
The growing malnutrition problem in largely due to the dramatic change in food habits involving increasing shift from iron and micro-nutrient food to high energy and high fat fast food. In turn, this change in food habits cause severe metabolic changes that results in overweight and obesity, the WHO expert argued.
"The kinds of food available in developing countries include more highly refined, processed, high-energy density foods," said Dr Branca.
Consequently, around 171 million children aged less than 5 years worldwide are "stunted" annually while 115 million children suffer from wasting.
Effectively, "around 3.9 million deaths which is about 35 per cent of total deaths stem from exposure to nutritional risk including underweight, suboptimal breast feeding, and
vitamin and mineral deficiencies, particularly vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc," the WHO said.
The WHO expert group is going to propose an action plan in which government and private sector will have to play a major role in providing iron and folic acid supplements,
multiple micro-nutrient food, and reduction of salts and simple sugars in basic foods.
"More importantly, government have to address the issue of equity and frame appropriate agriculture and trade policies, including social policies to address malnutrition and obesity," Dr Braca said.