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might targeting malnutrition (not undernourishment!) be an important cause area?

by peter_janicki1 min read20th Sep 20205 comments

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Cause candidatesGlobal health and development
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I recently (finally) started to hear some audiobooks about nutrition and recently I stumbled about a podcast directed at physicians (it´s in german... search for amboss podcast, "ernährung als medizin" = nutrition as medicine) with the medical director of "physicians association for nutrition" (www.pan-int.org -> great links there!) and he argued, that malnutrition (not undernourishment!) is way more detrimental to world health than tobacco, alcohol, lack of exercising etc. combined. And it sure costs a lot of money/ ressources... I was impressed. And I was a little bit offended by reality, because I quitted smoking, I´m not drinking, I get some exercise, ... but my dietary habits haven´t been great for years...

In our surveys some effective altruists consider mental health as a top cause. Mental Health makes up to some 120 million DALYs worldwide in 2017 (refering to this source: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/daly-from-mental-health-and-substance-use-disorders?tab=chart&country=OWID_WRL~Western%20Europe )? So I looked up, what the figures are for malnutrition are and here (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30954305/) they quote it´s about twice the size in DALYs, namely some 250 million DALYs worldwide in 2017.

But are there ea(-associated) organizations promoting evidence-based diets for the sake of health? I can find some organizations working on undernourishment (Vitamin A, Iodine, etc. - great effective things!). But again, that´s not malnutrition. Do we recommend people to get involved into this area? Should some people think about getting involved here?

If this area really is twice the size of mental health - is it neglected here?

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I would guess (though I could easily be wrong!) that more than 2x annually is spent on nutrition programs than mental health programs. But there are a lot of different ways to fight malnutrition. You might be able to find a specific intervention that's particularly cost-effective and can make a big difference. If you do find something like that, please post about it!

Thx for commenting. I am not sure, whether I got your point. If you are writing about nutrition-programs - do you mean getting people specific foods or informing them? As to my experience in germany there is no powerful organization or lobby -group trying to promote better nutrition because of the impressive health effects/reduced costs etc.

[+][comment deleted]9mo 1
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Could you clarify the difference between malnutrition and undernourishment?

Sure. Malnutrition: eating the wrong things as a voluntary choice despite having alternatives. Undernourishment: one does not get enough food, f.e. because there is not enough/because one can‘t afford it. malnutrition seems to be a big problem in middle and high income countries. In low-income countries undernourishment would be a big problem. My post is only about eating the wrong stuff on a „voluntary“ basis. One can afford fruits and veggies, but f.e. still eats red meat, salty chips etc. And those 250 million DALYs they only account for eating the wrong stuff (but not because of scarcity). At least if all those numbers are correct.