On, April 7, the World Health Organization will be commemorating its founding with World Health Day. The World Health Day theme for 2013, high blood pressure, illustrates the strong connections between food and health.
This week’s Food Hero is someone who has spent her career focusing on the interactions between food and health issues. is the Lead Health and Nutrition Specialist for the , a division of the World Bank. Shekar is a graduate of Delhi University in India and Cornell University, where she received her PhD in International Nutrition, Epidemiology, and Population Studies. Shekar previously worked with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on nutrition and water issues in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and the Philippines.;
One issue that Shekar has focused on in her work with both UNICEF and the World Bank is reducing malnutrition in infants. This is a field in which the actions taken today to reduce hunger will improve global health in the future. For example, a child who is undernourished between pregnancy and age two will suffer negative health consequences for the rest of his or her life. In Shekar’s words, “If we miss that opportunity [to provide infants with complete nutrition], we miss an entire generation because the damage that happens in the early months is irreversible.”
Malnutrition remains a major problem across many developing countries: according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), 15 percent of the population of developing countries is undernourished. However, health issues related to eating too much food, or too much of certain foods, are also becoming increasingly prominent.
For example, obesity and diabetes are no longer problems exclusive to developed nations. In India, as the Hindustan Times reported in March, “Today, more Indians are dying of lifestyle diseases [such as heart conditions] than of infections – a reverse of the situation 20 years ago.” Diabetes is now the tenth largest killer in India.
Our nutrition-related health problems won’t be solved easily. As Shekar has written, “Solving the nutrition problems of tomorrow means taking a coordinated approach [to those faced today] – incorporating transportation, agriculture, gender, water, for example.” But, thanks to interdisciplinary leaders like Shekar, solving them may be possible.