Combined Impact of Undernutrition and Obesity Costs Region’s Countries Millions of Dollars

EclacA report by ECLAC and the World Food Programme indicates that malnutrition had an impact equal to 4.3% of GDP in Ecuador, 2.3% in Mexico and 0.2% in Chile.

(24 April 2017) The combined impact of undernutrition and of overweight and obesity —also known as the double burden of malnutrition— has a significant negative impact on morbidity and mortality rates and on educational performance and productivity and, consequently, has enormous economic repercussions for individuals, communities and nations, reveals a report launched today in Mexico City.

The study —titled “The Cost of the Double Burden of Malnutrition” (in Spanish) — is the result of a partnership between the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the World Food Programme (WFP) and calculates losses in productivity, health and education in Chile, Ecuador and Mexico.

According to the research, the economic impact of the double burden of malnutrition is now equal to 4.3% of Ecuador’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 2.3% of Mexico’s: US$ 4.3 billion and US$ 28.8 billion a year, respectively.

In those countries, undernutrition afflicts an economic burden that is between 1.5 and 3 times greater than the burden imposed by overweight and obesity, chiefly on account of lost productivity.

However, the economic burden of overnutrition is already significant and continues to rise. In Chile, a country that has eradicated undernutrition, overweight and obesity cost the equivalent of 0.2% of GDP: in other words, US$ 500 million a year.

“The double burden of malnutrition has a growing impact on poor and vulnerable populations, and it is becoming another factor in the inequality found in our region,” said Alicia Bárcena, the Executive Secretary of ECLAC.

“In the current context of economic deceleration, it is more imperative than ever that countries make every effort to adopt a new paradigm of production and consumption, which is essential for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” Bárcena added.

The ECLAC/WFP study expands on the methodology used for the report “The Cost of Hunger” (which dates back to 2007) by including overweight and obesity.

According to the study, overfeeding is expected to become the region’s heaviest social and economic encumbrance. From 2014 to 2078, overweight and obesity are forecast to cost an estimated annual total of US$ 1.0 billion in Chile, US$ 3.0 billion in Ecuador and US$ 13.0 billion in Mexico.

“Over the past decade, numerous middle-income countries have taken great strides in reducing undernutrition. The problem persists, however, and we are now seeing a worrying trend among vulnerable communities, with cases of undernutrition and overweight found simultaneously within the same family,” said Miguel Barreto, the Regional Director of the WFP.

“Both undernutrition and overweight impose a heavy burden on the health of those families, which ultimately translates into lost productivity and pressure on the health and education systems of the countries where they live,” he added.

The study recommends measures for mitigating that burden. Governments must bolster consumer education through clear policies and initiatives to ensure reliable foodstuff labelling, physical exercise regimens and support for nutritional education programmes within communities.

The study invites the food industry to work with governments to ensure the production, availability and accessibility of healthy foodstuffs and to play a positive and responsible role in educating consumers about healthy eating options.

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