The coronavirus pandemic may threaten efforts to improve the diet and nutrition of nearly 2 billion people in the Asia-Pacific Region, various agencies of the United Nations warned.
In a new report titled “Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2020: Maternal and Child Diets at the Heart of Improving Nutrition,” the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization said 1.9 billion people had been unable to afford a healthy diet, even before the pandemic because of the high price of fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
Because of such high prices, it has become nearly impossible for poor people in the region to have healthy diets, which is critical in ensuring food security and nutrition for all, especially for mothers and children.
The report added that the pandemic and lack of decent work opportunities, as well as significant uncertainty of food systems and markets, worsened inequality as poor families have altered their diets to consume cheaper but less nutritious food.
More than 350 million people in the region were undernourished in 2019, which is half of the global total, while 74.5 million of children below five years old experienced stunted growth and 31.5 million suffered from wasting or being too thin for their height.
Conversely, obesity has increased rapidly, with 14.5 million children under the age of five in South-Eastern Asia and the Pacific being overweight or obese.
The four agencies called for a transformation of food systems in the Asia and Pacific to increase the affordability of nutritious, safe and sustainable diets.
They also recommended improved efficiency and productivity of value chains, which would reduce the cost of essential foods that would make it more affordable.
Governments across the region were urged to invest in nutrition and food safety in fresh and street food markets to promote healthy diets. The agencies also sought regulation of marketing of food to curb obesity, and related diseases and illnesses.
“Leveraging these systems, in a coordinated fashion that expands the opportunities to address barriers to accessing and consuming healthy diets, will help countries and the people of Asia and the Pacific recover faster from the economic impact of Covid-19 and be better prepared for future crises,” they said.