FENS 2019 topics: the double burden of malnutrition

FENS 2019 conference will explore European perspectives on ‘malnutrition in an obese world’. With the double burden of malnutrition co-existing at a national, community, and individual level, the conference will take a wide-ranging approach to an increasingly contentious topic. Rapid globalisation, urbanisation, and population growth have caused a profound shift in dietary patterns, lifestyles, and patterns of disease. As a result, rates of overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have risen, while undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies have persisted.

With an estimated 2 billion people globally overweight and obese, a further 2 billion suffer from a micronutrient deficiency. While 38.3 million under 5-year olds are now overweight and obese, 150.8 million are stunted, and a further 50.5 million wasted [Global Nutrition Report, 2018].

In many countries, these different types of malnutrition co-exist at both a national and a household level. In a 2017 systematic review, the reported national prevalence of double burden households varied from 0.0% to up to 26.8%, with prevalence highest in middle income countries. The co-existence of under and over nutrition can occur even in individuals; for example in those who are both overweight and stunted, or obese and anaemic.

The double burden is, however, as much about the interaction of risk factors and health outcomes as it is about co-existence of over and under nutrition. With individuals’ nutrition status formed by a complex combination of biological, environmental, social and behavioural factors, the risk factors for both over and under nutrition are often very similar. Epigenetic changes to gene expression during the intra-uterine growth period for instance, can be affected by maternal diet both before and during pregnancy, influencing the risk of low birth weight as well as later obesity and NCD risk in offspring.

Source: World Health Organisation, The double burden of malnutrition: policy brief; 2017. Available here

Yet although the double burden represents a significant clinical and public health challenge, it also presents an opportunity for integrated and collaborative action at an international level. With the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025) aiming to trigger action to eradicate all forms of malnutrition, FENS hopes to foster European collaboration and exchange of ideas, offering nutrition sector professionals the opportunity to broaden their knowledge on the issues in question and to meet and hear from their peers.

The conference will take a wide-ranging approach to the topic of malnutrition, with sessions examining the determinants and drivers of malnutrition across the life-course, novel technologies for assessment, current metabolic perspectives, the food environment, and other emerging issues. Different perspectives on each topic will cover the genetic, molecular, and cellular aspects of malnutrition, metabolism and physiology in addition to examining the epidemiological evidence and the policies, practices and behaviours implicated in designing effective interventions. The Nutrition Society will be hosting a symposium on Thursday 17 October entitled, ‘the double burden of malnutrition: a global challenge’, and looks forward to continuing to explore this topic.

Offering delegates an opportunity to visit Dublin as well as hearing from experts from across Europe and beyond, super early registration fees to attend FENS are available until 8 May 2019.