For the last two months, we have been traveling in Asia: first Indonesia, Malaysia, then India and Nepal. Funny, I always thought I was more of a nutrition specialist focusing on east Africa, but these days, my effort sits in south and east Asia. The last time I really set a significant foot imprint in Africa was in 2011. Since then, just short trips to Ethiopia or Uganda. I haven’t been back to Kenya, once what I considered home, since 2010.
If I compare the nutrition challenges between south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, they are quite distinct. One major determinant that seems to contribute to undernutrition in sub-Saharan Africa is vast food insecurity. It just seems like there is less food grown and available, less access to nutritious and diverse foods, and less infrastructure. In Asia, the major determinant of undernutrition seems more to be sanitation and hygiene with the practice of open defecation (OD) as a huge sociocultural hurdle. Both suffer from infectious disease burden largely due to their geography – oh the tropics.
Now I know this is a generalization and I don’t have solid evidence for the comparison. We know OD is a big problem in countries like India, but this observation is just my anecdotal experiences. Call me a wannabe nutrition anthropologist, but if the experiment could be done, I bet I wouldn’t be too far off the mark.
I am not belittling the complexity of undernutrition in either place and of course, there is local context to be taken into consideration when considering these vast continents. Both places have their own issues, as does the U.S. and the UK when it comes time to the food environment, the health and food systems and the placement and status of women. Everyone suffers from complex challenges….And we know conflict, in all its facets, is a game changer regardless of the food or sanitation situation.
Anyone have thoughts on whether studies have been done on this?