It's generally accepted that being overweight is a costly health care problem, but new data suggests that being undernourished is even more expensive.
Around the world, malnutrition has become a problem that costs a staggering $3.5 trillion per year, according figures cited by the latest Global Nutrition Report, which gives a comprehensive analysis of food and nutrition issues each year. That sum dwarfs the costs of being overweight and obese, which the report's authors tallied at $500 billion annually.
Although most countries have fallen short in their efforts to address poor nutrition and food insecurity, the United States appears to be badly off track on all its nutrition targets, the report found. The world's largest economy continues to suffer from high rates of obesity, diabetes and anemia, according to the data, and has more than a million overweight children.
"Malnutrition is responsible for more ill-health than any other cause.The health consequences of overweight and obesity contribute to an estimated four million deaths globally," Corinna Hawkes, co-chair of the Global Nutrition Report and director of the Center for Food Policy, wrote in the report.
The dire figures "call for immediate action," Hawkes said. "The uncomfortable question is not so much 'why are things so bad?,' but 'why are things not better when we know so much more than before?'"