"The malnourished become obese when they begin to eat"

It's punctual, didactic. She looks vigorous, as if she were very young. Arlene Mitchell was the agricultural director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, then executive of the World Food Programme (WFP) and is now executive director of the World Foundation for Child Nutrition. At the end of January, he was invited by WFP for the International Seminar on Evidence and trends to strengthen policies in nutrition and school feeding and talked with future planet about how much we eat, what we eat, who They don't eat well and how to nourish us for our whole existence.

Has malnutrition in the world decreased or is it an illusion?

Yes, most of the world's population has improved in their level of nutrition. However, there is a high rate of people with obesity, which generates another big problem. The number of people who are hungry has been reduced, but those who are overweight have increased.

There are not many people who eat little, but there are many people who eat badly...

People who were at some point malnourished, or who were fed little during their childhood, when they start eating become obese. It is not because they are eating more, but for something that happens physically in the body. Going from a time when you are hungry to another where you can eat, even if it is not much, causes a decompensation. That leads to overweight, which has to do with what things we eat and how many times we eat. We often consume foods rich in sugar, fats and salt.

How many malnourished children are there in the world today?

I don't want to give a particular amount, but it's important to describe what malnutrition is. Sometimes it also occurs in obese people. Rather, it is about overnourished or undernourished, concepts that better explain what malnutrition is, for lack or for excess. It is estimated that in the Americas there is a rate of malnutrition, related to obesity, more than 30%.

30% Obesity!

Yes, and I also want to talk to you about the three forms of malnutrition. If you're undernourished, it means you don't eat enough food. Another way is obesity. And the third is the problem of the lack of micronutrients, because sometimes they are not consumed.

What is the main problem in Peru?

In Peru there are of the three types, and the percentage varies not only by the sex, but by the age group. A lot of work has been done to ensure that children and young people have good nutrition. We also think of children with obesity, a problem that is worked with Chile. I think that in all Latin America you can see something similar. There is also anemia, a problem that can be addressed by increasing micronutrients. Peru has been very good at identifying their shortcomings and knowing how to intervene. It will be one of the countries that will teach the region a lot on that subject.

It is estimated that in the Americas there is a rate of malnutrition, related to obesity, more than 30%

But there are terrible gaps. For example, Guatemala has, according to ECLAC, 46% of children with malnutrition.

Undernourishment is generated when someone is in a poverty condition. This can be solved through social protection programs. If there is a school feeding program, this allows families to save in different ways. They no longer invest in the child's food in the morning, for example, and they have a kid who goes to school and is fed. I strongly believe in child nutrition and in these programs. A well-nourished and educated child is going to become a parent who gives good food and teaching to their children.

Is the indigenous population still the most undernourished on the planet?

The rural population is the one that suffers most from malnutrition, but everything depends on the context. Because there are indigenous populations with a good traditional diet, which is quite healthy and has been passed down from generation to generation. Then changes have been introduced, such as fast food, canned or processed. That has been detrimental to their level of nutrition and has affected them. And what also contributes to malnutrition in rural areas is...

Climate change...

Yes, its impact has been extremely negative in terms of food supply. If an indigenous population can no longer cultivate what they used to cultivate, or cannot hunt or fish as before, that will have an impact on their diet.

Why did you pass from 1,000 to 8,000 days to attend child nutrition?

I think we should be concerned about nutrition throughout a person's life. But it has been defined, in a general way, that the most important part of a child's life is the first 1,000 days. However, there are recent studies that have done an analysis of the 8,000 first days. What worries us the most is whether children grow up physically. This is because human beings do not grow up only 1,000 days, but until they are 21 years old.

Better eat well all that time, all life.

Nutrition contributes to the correct development of all parts of the body. It affects not only the physical development of the person, but also the intelligence, the behavior. Teens ' crazy years are because there is a change in the shaping of the brain. A brain synapse is generated that allows the young person to calm down later. Therefore, nutrition should not be only for the first years but for the whole process of growth.

In a country with a very strong political conflict, such as Venezuela, how much does nutrition levels worsen?

Hunger and malnutrition have definitely worsened in Venezuela, and this will affect the next generation. There are a large number of displaced people and conditions similar to those found in a war zone, where a massive group of people have their health and nutrition affected. The future is being taken away from these political problems.

And what happens in countries where conflict and poverty are permanent?

The impact of climate change has been extremely negative in terms of food supply

It is very difficult to improve nutrition if there is no stability. In Honduras and Guatemala it is about educating children and giving them a diverse diet. But in Central America there is a peculiarity: It depends a lot on one or two types of crops. It's okay to eat the corn, but not always. It is a combination of elements: family instability, political instability. Everything contributes.

As we are in the world, are we going to be able to achieve some of the sustainable development goals related to nutrition?

It can only be achieved if we have a political commitment. And particularly if the situation of girls is improved. Because they will eventually become mothers, who are one of the most important in this battle. They must be well fed. We have to focus not only on the first thousand Days of girls; Also in the first years of life of future fathers and mothers.