Introduction: the challenge of hunger and malnutrition
Alongside the tragedy of acute famine, which is frequently shown on our televisions, there is a much bigger problem of chronic hunger and malnutrition in developing countries. Although this carries a very real human cost, it is the purpose of this chapter to look purely at the economic aspects: Assuring better nutrition can both reduce the economic drain on poor societies and help them become wealthier by increasing individuals' productivity.
This chapter reviews the nature and scale of the problem and the economic benefits that would flow from successful solutions. Four opportunity areas for effective use of resources to reduce malnutrition are then proposed:
Reducing the prevalence of Low Birth Weight.
Promotion of infant and child nutrition and exclusive breastfeeding.
Reducing the prevalence of iron deficiency anemia and vitamin A, iodine, and zinc deficiencies.
Investment in technology in developing country agriculture.
Using resources to address these opportunities would yield benefits greater than the cost, so these opportunities are economically justified. Benefits would, of course, also be realized on a wider social and human scale.
The nature of the challenge
Hunger has been described as “a condition in which people lack the basic food intake to provide them with the energy and nutrients for fully productive lives.” Malnutrition, in its strict sense, can be associated with over-consumption of food, resulting for example in obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. Such problems are of increasing importance in some parts of the developing world.