Up to five per cent of global economic output may be lost due to malnutrition, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Tuesday, noting that increasing obesity was compounding chronic undernourishment problems.

The direct health care costs and long-term damage from lost productivity could amount to $ 3.5 trillion per year, or $ 500 per person, the Rome-based agency said in its yearly The State of Food and Agriculture report.

FAO estimated that while 12.5 per cent of the world’s population — 868 million people — does not have enough to eat, there are 2 billion people who suffer from nutritional deficiencies and 1.4 billion people who are overweight, including 500 million who are obese.

“The social burden due to child and maternal malnutrition has declined almost by half during the last two decades, while that due to overweight and obesity has almost doubled”, FAO said.

The agency stressed that malnutrition “remains by far the greater problem, especially in low-income countries”, but warned that policy-makers had to address the problem while “avoiding or reversing the emergence of overweight and obesity”.

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