(Bloomberg) — The economic crisis and food system disruptions from the Covid-19 pandemic will worsen the lack of nutrition in women and children, with the potential to cost the world almost $30 billion in future productivity losses.
As many as 3 billion people may be unable to afford a healthy diet due to the pandemic, according to a study published in Nature Food journal. This will exacerbate maternal and child under-nutrition in low- and middle-income countries, causing stunting, wasting, mortality and maternal anemia.
Disruptions in supply chains for perishable nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat and fish, have led to price volatility and declining consumption of these foods. Households have switched to less expensive sources of calories, including starchy staples, cereals, oils and ultra-processed foods that lead to poorer-quality diets.
By 2022, pandemic-related disruptions could result in an additional 9.3 million children who weigh too little for their height, 2.6 million who are too short for their age, 168,000 child deaths and 2.1 million maternal anemia cases. This could cause future productivity losses of $29.7 billion, according to the study.
Without swift and strategic responses, the pandemic “will not only reverse years of progress and exacerbate disparities in disease, malnutrition and mortality, but will also jeopardize human capital development and economic growth for the next generation,” the researchers said.
World hunger has hit a 15-year high and a 10th of the global population was undernourished in 2020, according to the United Nations. It’ll take a “tremendous” effort for the world to fulfill a pledge to end hunger by 2030, the agency said this month as it reiterated a call to transform food systems.