Nutrition is one of the most important factors that impact health in all
areas of the lifecycle. Pregnant women need adequate food and health care
to deliver a healthy baby who has a good birth weight and a fighting chance
for survival. In many regions of the world, the infant mortality rate is very
high, meaning that many infants will not live to see their first birthday.
Breastfeeding is the ideal method of feeding and nurturing infants, because
breast milk contains many immunologic agents that protect the infant against
bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Yet, less than 40 percent of infants world-
wide are exclusively breastfed (no other food or drink, not even water) for
the first four months of life. Children need adequate nutrition to develop
and grow to their full potential.
Malnutrition, both undernutrition and overnutrition, is at an all time
high, with close to one-third of the world's children suffering from it. The
number of undernourished people in the world continues to increase be-
cause of little or no progress to reduce poverty. Thousands of children die
daily from hunger and its effects, even in technologically advanced coun-
tries. Without adequate nutrition, a person's cognitive ability* is diminished,
which adversely affects their ability to get a good paying job and contribute
to their local economy. Paradoxically, childhood and adult obesity in many
parts of the developed world are also near epidemic proportions. There
are 300 million obese people in the world. In the United States, about 34
percent of Americans are overweight and 30.5 percent are obese.
Life expectancy has increased in many countries and the population of
older adults is growing at an unprecedented rate in the United States and
other technologically advanced countries. In the United States the average
life expectancy is 70, while globally, the average rose to 67 years in 1998,
up from 61 in 1980. These countries are unsure of how they will provide
adequate health care for this growing segment of the population. Cardio-
vascular disease (coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke) and cancer
are top killers in many countries and HIV/AIDS continue to ravage our
societies, taking individuals in the productive years of their lives.