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Global outlook on nutrition and the environment: meeting the challenges of the next millennium

Abstract

As we enter the new millennium, nearly 800 million of the World’s population will remain chronically malnourished. Nearly 200 million children are moderately to severely underweight, while 70 million are severely malnourished. And those who are yet to be born will be faced with the same set of circumstances that predispose them to malnutrition and its consequences. Eradication of nutritional deficiencies among women and children on a global scale are needed to ensure improved quality of life for the next generation of citizens. Primary deficiencies in vitamin A, iron, iodine, calcium, folic acid and trace elements such as zinc are compounded by pollutants caused by human activity. Environmental lead, arsenic, mercury, and other heavy metals that enter the food chain can seriously deplete body stores of iron, vitamin C and other essential nutrients leading to decreased immune defenses, intrauterine growth retardation, impaired psycho-social faculties and other disabilities associated with malnutrition. Increased susceptibilities to communicable diseases, and those provoked by water or insect borne vectors are additional risks encountered by malnourished individuals. Migration of populations from rural to urban centers and the expansion of major metropolitan areas have had a significant and adverse impact on the quality of life of these citizens. In the next 20 years most of the growth in urban populations will be in Asia and Latin America. Urbanization and the resultant burden on limited national resources is a major contributory factor to malnutrition. There are many other lifestyle-associated disabilities such as use of tobacco (cancer) and alcoholism that require active intervention. Within the family unit, socioeconomic factors and the status of women (literacy, economic independence) are major determinants of the quality of life. In the coming century, the World will have to meet these challenges by careful planning and international cooperation.