It's one of the paradoxes of the modern world that many people on our planet struggle with malnutrition, while others battle obesity. These problems affect children in particular. Although childhood obesity has been called "one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century," it remains the case that globally, 165 million children do not have enough to eat. This is an underlying cause of 2.3 million child deaths every year, according to the charity Save the Children.
These are stark figures. And disparities in access to food have far-reaching knock-on effects in children's lives. Save the Children's research found that when children are underfed during their first two years of life, it affects their cognitive development, causing them to fare less well in school tests. Well-nourished children are 13 percent more likely to be in the correct grade at school, having better lifelong skills and career prospects.
The UN states that one third of all food that is produced is thrown out and does not make it to our dinner tables, often because it doesn't meet the conventional standards of how people think a particular item should look. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General, called the waste, "an affront to the hungry," and he was right.
But how should we respond? Dealing with this issue is complex and involves governmental cooperation and a host of policy decisions. Even on an individual, local level, however, there are plenty of things that we can do: We can think about reducing our "food footprint" by shopping more efficiently -- squandered food wastes water and energy, while rotten produce, lying in landfills, emits methane, the harmful greenhouse gas. More actively, we can support microfinance programs and other schemes that empower women farmers in Africa and elsewhere. Over two-thirds of African women work in the farming sector, buying, growing, and selling produce to support their families.
Child malnourishment is a complicated but crucial challenge which will require global collaboration if it is to be resolved. José Graziano da Silva, who is head of the UN United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, recently said that, "We must strive for nothing less than the eradication of hunger and malnutrition." That's a statement I passionately agree with. Let's urge governments and public institutions to create a more effective global food production system, and as individuals, do what we can to play a positive role.