In a study published by PLOS Medicine, Carlos S. Grijalva-Eternod and his colleagues examine the surprising coincidence of obesity and overweight with malnutrition in refugees in the Western Sahara region of Africa. The study shows that one in four Western Saharan refugee households suffer from both overweight or obesity and under-nutrition, and that more refugee households are burdened by overweight and obesity than those experiencing under-nutrition, with an astounding 53.5 percent of households having at least one overweight or obese member.
This, the double burden of malnutrition, is due to a number of factors. One possible cause could be the types of foods that comprise refugee assistance packages. The study notes that these often include processed foods heavy in starches and sugar, and little to no fresh produce. In an emergency situation, refugees are often wholly dependent on these assistance packages.
While the situation of a refugee in the Western Sahara obviously has little in common with the average American, there are still some parallels to be drawn. In the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition’s publication on the growing global trend of overweight and obesity, it is noted that many overweight and obese children in industrialized countries are nutritionally deficient as they eschew foods rich in vitamins and minerals in favor of a high-fat and -calorie, low-nutrient foods. The BarillaCFN’s report cites the popularity and high availability of sugary and fatty snacks and beverages as a primary cause for this dietary transition.
The Grijalva-Eternod study calls specifically for a reevaluation of the aid given to refugees in need, and indicates that further measures be taken to protect long-term food security in emergency zones. The authors cite community participation in sustainable food supply practices, such as small-scale farming, as one method of accomplishing this. The study additionally recommends further attention to non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, in areas at risk.
One rarely considers food security to be a major issue in a country such as the United States, but the fact of the matter is that many low-income families struggle to maintain healthy diets due to lack of – or limited awareness of – affordable options.