Nutrition is one of the most important factors that impact health in all areas of the lifecycle. Pregnant women need adequate food and health care to deliver a healthy baby who has a good birth weight and a fighting chance for survival. In many regions of the world, the infant mortality rate is very high, meaning that many infants will not live to see their first birthday. Breastfeeding is the ideal method of feeding and nurturing infants, because breast milk contains many immunologic agents that protect the infant against bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Yet, less than 40 percent of infants worldwide are exclusively breastfed (no other food or drink, not even water) for the first four months of life. Children need adequate nutrition to develop and grow to their full potential.
Malnutrition, both undernutrition and overnutrition, is at an all time high, with close to one-third of the world's children suffering from it. The number of undernourished people in the world continues to increase because of little or no progress to reduce poverty. Thousands of children die daily from hunger and its effects, even in technologically advanced countries. Without adequate nutrition, a person's cognitive ability is diminished, which adversely affects their ability to get a good paying job and contribute to their local economy. Paradoxically, childhood and adult obesity in many parts of the developed world are also near epidemic proportions. There are 300 million obese people in the world. In the United States, about 34 percent of Americans are overweight and 30.5 percent are obese.
Life expectancy has increased in many countries and the population of older adults is growing at an unprecedented rate in the United States and other technologically advanced countries. In the United States the average life expectancy is 70, while globally, the average rose to 67 years in 1998, up from 61 in 1980. These countries are unsure of how they will provide adequate health care for this growing segment of the population. Cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke) and cancer are top killers in many countries and HIV/AIDS continue to ravage our societies, taking individuals in the productive years of their lives.
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