The issue

Malnutrition, in all its forms, imposes unacceptably high costs - direct and indirect - on individuals, families and nations. This is a major impediment to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The estimated impact on the global economy could be as high as US$3.5 trillion per year, or US$500 per individual. These enormous costs result from economic growth foregone and lost investments in human capital associated with preventable child deaths, as well as premature adult mortality linked to diet-related non-communicable diseases.

This brief highlights that adult earnings are reduced by 2.4% for every 1% loss in potential attained height. Further costs are incurred through impaired learning, poor school performance, compromised adult labour productivity, and increased health care costs. Overnutrition also bears a significant cost; at least 2.6 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

The need for action

Sustained reductions in malnutrition will contribute significantly to poverty alleviation and government budgetary savings. It is therefore vital that addressing all forms of malnutrition becomes a top policy priority.

Evidence reveals the impressive economic benefits of investment associated with actions to improve food systems, diets and nutrition worldwide; it is estimated that a US$18 return is achieved from every US$1 invested in reducing wasting and stunting. Policymakers are called to make decisions based on the known cost-effectiveness of immediate actions, bearing in mind future accrued costs if appropriate actions are delayed.

This technical brief

In this technical brief: The Cost of Malnutrition: Why Policy Action is Urgent, the Global Panel calls for more attention to the costs of inaction and urges policymakers, particularly those in economic planning and finance ministries, to invest in nutrition and in actionable food and agriculture policies.

Although the price of addressing malnutrition can be huge, evidence shows that the cost of doing nothing is immeasurably greater, states Prof K. Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India, and Global Panel Member.

Working paper: “The economics of reducing malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa”

 

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