Underweight, Overweight and Micronutrient Deficiencies: The Triple Burden of Malnutrition

  • Article
  • July 17, 2018

With the United Nations 2015 launch of 17 Sustainable Development Goals with the global aim of drastically decreasing poverty, hunger, climate change and inequality, it makes sense that goal No. 2 is to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

Every country in the world today is affected by at least one form of malnutrition. Undernutrition (underweight, stunting and wasting), overweight and obesity and micronutrient deficiencies are the triple burden of malnutrition. (For more, check out and download this infographic.)

Globally, approximately 800 million people are undernourished, which can contribute to stunting and wasting, limiting optimal growth and development. Nearly 3 million children under the age of 5 die each year because of undernutrition.

Nearly 2 billion adults and 41 million children under age 5 are overweight or obese as of 2014. Carrying excess body weight puts a person at risk for several chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In the U.S., over 70 percent of adults ages 20 and older are overweight or obese as of 2013-2014.

More than 2 billion people are affected by anemia, which is often due to iron deficiency. In other words, they don’t consume an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals that are important for health and development. Of greatest global public health concern are micronutrient deficiencies from insufficient vitamin A, iron and iodine. Vitamin D, vitamin B12, folate, calcium and zinc are also important common micronutrient deficiencies. Approximately 30 percent of Americans aged 9 and older may be at risk for at least one vitamin deficiency or are at risk for anemia based on data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Malnutrition in any form has far-reaching consequences for individuals, communities and society, including increased risk for disease and premature death, higher health care costs, limited educational potential and reduced economic progress. Efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal No. 2 are essential for supporting a healthy, thriving, prosperous population.

Milk and dairy products are part of the solution to the triple burden of malnutrition and can help nourish a growing world population. The dairy community is contributing to this call to action and is dedicated to being part of the solution. Find out more via new infographics on the Sustainable Development Goals and the dairy community’s commitment to helping achieve them. I will be talking more about dairy being part of the solution in my next post.