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Malnutrition in Liberia Carolyn Cole/Getty Images

The Many Faces of Malnutrition

One in three people worldwide suffer from malnutrition, which includes chronic undernutrition, excessive weight, and obesity. In West Africa, where that rate is much higher, decisive government action is needed to break the vicious cycle of poor health and poor economic outcomes.

ABUJA – If you happen to be sitting with two other people right now, chances are one of you is malnourished. And you might not even know it. Yes, that’s right: one in three people worldwide suffer from malnutrition, and it does not always look the way one might expect.

From the two billion adults who carry too much weight to the 159 million children with stunted growth, malnutrition takes many forms. As a doctor, I see women who appear healthy, but who suffer from anemia, owing partly to low iron intake. And I see relatively able-bodied men with big bellies, which elevate their risk for heart disease.

West Africa is home to some of the world’s highest rates of malnutrition. That includes the most obvious “face” of the condition: roughly 9% of West African children under five are wasted, or too thin for their height. At its most severe, wasting is fatal.

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