Malnutrition is a health crisis affecting millions around the world — and one becoming more urgent as the pandemic continues. Its impact is not just represented in health statistics; it is felt in people’s daily lives and the choices they make.
During an ICFJ webinar entitled The Urgency of Investing in Malnutrition Amid the Pandemic, Martha Nyagaya, the Kenya country director of Nutrition International, discussed the heightened impact of malnutrition on women and girls, and those living in poverty, the effects of COVID-19 on food security, and the importance of nutrition interventions.
“The world has the triple burden of malnutrition," she said, referring to the confluence of undernutrition, obesity and food insecurity. "Whichever way you look at the world, malnutrition affects all countries.”
Below is important background and information on malnutrition that can help journalists bolster their reporting on the issue.
The broader context
Malnutrition has a variety of interrelated, contributing factors, from poverty and food insecurity, to social and cultural norms. More immediate causes include inadequate dietary intake or disease, according to Nyagaya.
Economic constraints can undermine people’s access to nutritious foods. Living in poverty, for instance, increases the likelihood of nutrient deficiencies in one’s diet, which can in turn lead to educational setbacks and decreased productivity at work.
Women and girls disproportionately face the burden of malnutrition. In many countries, the needs of women are deprioritized. Social and cultural norms in these contexts can have clear, negative health consequences.
How COVID-19 has exacerbated malnutrition
The pandemic has caused changes in the food system, limiting some families’ access to healthy meals. A well-balanced diet is essential especially for more vulnerable groups of people, like pregnant women and children, for whom proper nutrition is critical for preventing disease.
“What we are seeing is a crisis that is building, that if left unchecked will be bigger than what we are currently seeing in the near future,” Nyagaya said.
The importance of nutrition interventions
Proper nutrition interventions can help those in need. Nyagaya cautioned against individualized approaches, however: “One single intervention will not address a multi-sectoral, multi-faceted problem,” she said.
Nyagaya stressed the need for countries to adopt a multi-sectoral approach, such as one taken by the Kenyan government. Kenya created a comprehensive plan to address malnutrition in a significant and sustainable way. Through this multisectoral approach, the country is able to reach more people who are struggling with malnutrition-related diseases.
This webinar was featured in ICFJ’s Global Health Crisis Reporting Initiative and is part of the Global Nutrition and Food Security Reporting Fellowship, funded by the Eleanor Crook Foundation.