The daunting cost of malnutrition - time for action!

4. February 2019.

  • Malnutrition results from low-quality diets that contain either insufficient calories, vitamins and minerals or too many calories, saturated fats, salt and sugar and, in both cases, significantly increases the risk of morbidity and mortality¹.
  • Chronic undernutrition delays physical growth and cognitive development, causes poor performance and work absenteeism, and reduces both personal earnings and overall economic productivity².
  • In low-income nations, the loss of productivity due to undernutrition ranges from 3 to 16% of gross domestic product, and costs workers 10% or more of their lifetime earnings (2).
  • Similarly, overweight and obesity are major risk factors for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, which currently account for over 60% of global deaths³.
  • In high-income countries such as the United States, job absenteeism linked to obesity reduces output by USD 4.3 billion each year, costing employers an average of USD 506 annually per obese worker².
  • A full course of therapy to save the life of a severely wasted child cost between USD 100 and USD 200 per child².
  • At the same time, the per capita healthcare costs in the United States alone are more than 80% higher for severely or morbidly obese adults than for adults with a healthy weight.
  • In conclusion, immediate and decisive action is needed to avert the profoundly destructive consequences for public health care costs and economic growth of all forms of malnutrition.

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Dr. Katarina Melzer


  1. Global  Panel on  Agriculture  and Food  Systems  for Nutrition.  2016.  Food systems  and  diets: Facing the challenges of the 21st century. London, UK.
  2. Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. 2016. The cost of malnutrition. Why policy action is urgent. London, UK.
  3. HLPE. 2017. Nutrition and food systems. A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome.