The following post was submitted to us by email on 1 March. Thank you, Mr. Haddad, for the thoughts you've lent us here. Also for the expertise and knowledge you bring to the industry of international development, more specifically to the issue of child nutrition.


Squeezed in South East Asia: Will rising levels of obesity and overweight undermine efforts to reduce stunting rates?

The rates of adult overweight and obesity are rising faster in South East Asia than in any other part of the continent. These are risk factors for a whole host of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. And yet stunting rates in the region are declining slowly.

The region is facing a double burden of malnutrition—over and under. The two burdens are linked financially (through health budgets), politically (those who are overweight and obese tend to be the more urban and wealthier and therefore the most powerful), and physiologically (stunting early in life is a predisposing factor for diet related chronic disease later in life).  This means that policymakers need to start formulating holistic ways of addressing these interlinked faces of malnutrition.  If they don't the budgets to deal with undernutrition will be squeezed by those dealing with the chronic diseases. More powerful people get their needs met first. With fewer resources, stunting would become more difficult to combat and mortality, morbidity and economic productivity losses would persist.

The largest country in the region, Indonesia, is a particular worry.  Its stunting rates are reportedly static while its child overweight rates are increasing rapidly and its adult overweight rates are already among the highest in the region.  To its great credit Indonesia was an early member of the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, and now we look to it to play a leadership role in the region and globally to help combat the twin threat of under and over-nutrition.

Lawrence Haddad, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI, writes about his, research, and thoughts on poverty, food security, and malnutrition on the blog Development Horizons.