When we hear the word 'malnutrition,' we may think of people suffering from hunger and famine — but the truth is, malnutrition is an issue that touches us all, in every part of the world. Today, more than 800 million people still lack access to enough calories, and nearly one-third of the world's population does not get the daily vitamins and minerals needed to be healthy. Our challenge as a global community is to make sure plates are not only full, but also filled with the right kind of foods.

Sharing What Works and Driving Change
At Abbott, we understand that good nutrition is the foundation for a healthy life. We are working with partners around the globe to provide growing populations with the nutrient-rich foods they need to thrive.

During the Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium 2015 held on April 16, 2015, in Washington D.C., Robert H. Miller, Ph.D., divisional vice president of Research and Development, Scientific and Medical Affairs for Abbott's nutrition business joined leaders from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), The Asia Foundation (international development organization committed to improving lives across Asia) and others to explore the following:

  • How malnutrition puts health at risk and slows economic growth
  • Food systems' crucial role in reducing the causes of malnutrition
  • Challenges to fixing the food system to improve nutrition
  • The rapidly growing market for nutrient-rich food
  • Improving nutrition through food systems in low-and middle- income countries

"Feeding the future generations of our world is a matter close to my heart," said Miller. "I was recently blessed with my first grandchild, and I know that, in order for him to have a healthy life and access to the right food when he's older, we have to make changes to our food policies starting today."

Keeping Those at the Highest Risk Healthy
One of the most significant, yet hidden, populations at risk for malnutrition is found in hospitals. Malnutrition can extend a patient's hospital stay and delay recovery.

Abbott has been working on research with the goal of demonstrating how simple nutrition intervention can help patients and reduce healthcare costs. In China, Europe and the U.S., Abbott-sponsored research has shown that there is a financial cost of malnutrition that is caused by disease in those countries. For China, that annual economic cost is $66 billion and will grow as its population and use of Western healthcare both grow. In Europe and the U.S., more established markets, the annual cost is $31 billion and $157 billion, respectively – and will continue to grow as the average age increases.

In an Abbott-sponsored study conducted by economists from the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California, researchers reviewed hospital records to determine what happened to patients when they were given an oral nutrition supplement. The results were positive for the patient and the hospital by reducing the time a patient has to stay in – and come back to -- the hospital and lowering costs.

Nutrition should be a part of every healthcare conversation, and Abbott is using its research to promote the value of nutrition to healthcare professionals, hospitals, insurance companies and consumers.

Partnerships Fight Malnutrition
Providing people access to healthy foods is a key focus at Abbott. Working in partnership with others, we apply our science to help communities around the world, build systems that continue to change lives for years to come. A few examples:

  • In India alone, 44 percent of children under five suffer from malnutrition. Abbott, the Abbott Fund and PATH are working to address malnutrition in India and other countries through an innovative and simple solution: rice fortified with vitamins and minerals. Abbott and PATH scientists are working to improve PATH's Ultra Rice® technology, which combines traditional rice with tiny rice-shaped grains packed with iron and other nutrients. This partnership also is working to strengthen local production, quality and, distribution of fortified rice to drive economic development and sustainability. For more information on this partnership, click here.
  • Together with Partners In Health (PIH), Abbott and the Abbott Fund have been working to fight malnutrition and expand economic opportunity in Haiti. One key example is the production of Nourimanba, PIH's peanut-based therapeutic food used to provide free treatment for severe childhood malnutrition. Together with PIH, we built a new facility that increased production of Nourimanba and added capacity for the future production of peanut butter and other food products. These products can be sold to provide enough income to drive long-term sustainable operations. For more information on this partnership, click here.

The Future of our Food
The future of food is evolving every day. By 2030, population growth is going to require an additional 200 million tons of protein to provide people with enough food, and our current consumption of traditional animal proteins cannot support future demand. At Abbott, we are finding solutions to address this by exploring more novel sources of protein, like quinoa, algae, fungi and others that can feed large populations for centuries to come.

"Addressing malnutrition is not easy, because it exists in so many places and in so many forms. But when we push ourselves to think differently, we can create change. And we can make a difference," concluded Miller.

For more information on the Chicago Council on Global Affairs event, click here.

For more examples of how Abbott is working to improve lives around the world, click here.