One in five people dies globally because of lack of food or unhealthy eating habits despite its abundance, researchers said in the latest Global Nutrition Report published on Thursday.
They exhorted governments and private groups to spend more to promote healthy diets as malnutrition is deadlier than air pollution and smoking.
The report, presented at a global food conference in Bangkok, noted that premature deaths and disabilities due to various forms of malnutrition from under-nutrition to obesity are causing huge burden on societies and economies.
Malnutrition could cost global society up to $3.5 trillion per year. Excess weight and obesity alone cost $500 billion per year.
About 45% of deaths in children under five are caused by under-nutrition. About 8 million children under five are stunted and overweight.
Thirty of 41 countries with more stunted children and anaemic and overweight women are in Africa. The number of under-five stunted children grew from 50.6 million in 2000 to 58.7 million in 2017 in the continent while it was falling in the rest of the world, the report said.
People consume unhealthy food because of lack of awareness, inability to pay for good food or ineffective supply chains, said Jessica Fanzo, a professor at the US Johns Hopkins University and a lead author of the report.