The malnutrition paradox: Obesity and hunger crises

In China, in 2009, nearly 100 million people were obese, but around the same time (in 2008), more than 200 million were suffering from undernourishment. While the latter figure has declined since then, this data highlights a seeming paradox of modern life. Hunger and obesity can now exist in the same countries side by side – and both reach a large scale.

Today, in Nigeria, to give another example, 37% of children under 5 are stunted from undernutrition, even as 25% of women age 15-49 are overweight or obese.

In advanced economies, side-by-side obesity and undernutrition generally reflects income inequality, weak social safety nets, and poor access to high-quality nutrition instead of junk food.

In many low-income and middle-income developing nations, however, this apparent contradiction – where a country’s malnutrition challenges simultaneously include both extremes of chronic hunger and obesity – is usually experienced as part of a “nutrition transition.”

In that transition, a combination of urbanization, changes in dietary intake and a growing middle class combines to produce this phenomenon. It becomes easier for many people to obtain unhealthy foods (or suppliers find it easier to reach them), even as some areas of the country or some economic strata of the population continue struggling to access any food at all.

Eventually, this crossover phase ends, as famines become infrequent, agriculture becomes more efficient and more people cross into a stable middle class.

October 1, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 101


Topics: UAE and Russia milestones for women in air and space, illegal contraception co-pays in the US, death penalty in Kenya case, Big Ideas in voting and internet technology, Thai government’s food robot. People: Bill, Persephone, Nate. Produced: September 29th, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– The 1st UAE female combat pilot, the 4th female cosmonaut, CVS charging illegal co-pays on contraception, and more
– Big Idea: Could the U.S. use the goal of secure internet voting as a moonshot project to strengthen internet security in general? What interim measures should be taken to make voting easier?
– Why Thailand’s government is trying to build a robot to measure Thai food authenticity

Part 1 – UAE, Russia, US, Kenya:
Part 1 – UAE, Russia, US, Kenya – AFD 101
Part 2 – Big Ideas in Voting Tech:
Part 2 – Big Ideas in Voting Tech – AFD 101
Part 3 – Thai Food:
Part 3 – Thai Food – AFD 101

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links
Segment 1

AFD: Russia & UAE: A big week for women in air and space
Gawker: Fox News Host Calls Female Fighter Pilot “Boobs On the Ground” Congresswoman Speier Discovers CVS Illegally Charged 11,000 Women for Contraceptives
AFD: Kenya sentence an urgent reminder of the need for legal abortion

Segment 2

Wikipedia: Electronic voting in Estonia
ThinkProgress: Georgia State Senator Complains That Voting Is Too Convenient For Black People

Segment 3

New York Times: You Call This Thai Food? The Robotic Taster Will Be the Judge
The Globalist: Exporting Japanese Food Culture


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Thailand’s food-robot army is nearly ready

Pre-coup and post-coup, Thailand’s leadership can agree to remain committed to one thing: Shaming overseas restaurants for insufficiently authentic Thai food. And now their food-tasting (killer?) robot is doing well in testing and may soon be sold to high-end restaurants in southeast Asia and beyond:

The government-financed Thai Delicious Committee, which oversaw the development of the machine, describes it as “an intelligent robot that measures smell and taste in food ingredients through sensor technology in order to measure taste like a food critic.”

In a country of 67 million people, there are somewhere near the same number of strongly held opinions about Thai cooking. […] But there does seem to be some agreement on one point at least: Bad Thai food is a more acute problem overseas.

Thais, who can establish an immediate bond discussing where they will get their next meal or the merits of particular food stalls, complain that Thai restaurants overseas cater to non-Thai palates by pulling punches on spice and not respecting the delicate balance between sweet, sour, salty and four-alarm spicy.

For designing and building a robot from scratch, the project has a very low price-tag overall and will supposedly be earned back by sales of the robot.

Anyway, the way it works is that it performs a rapid chemical analysis of a food sample, teasing out both the constituent ingredients used and the ratios used, and then it compares it to a database of ingredients and ratios used in a sample “ideal” recipe for that meal — with the ideal as determined by the ratings of a small research study with a hundred or so ordinary Thai people (not food critics).

But I’m pretty sure we all know it’s going to end up chemically analyzing mankind and find us insufficiently spicy to remain alive. And just as Thailand was one of the few countries in the world to resist Western colonialism (more or less), Thailand’s robots will no doubt be the first to take on humanity successfully.


Warning: Genetically Moronic Organisms

The U.S. left’s anti-science movement is almost as bad as the U.S. right’s anti-science movement. The anti-science-right thinks everything is an ungodly development (or will hurt the oil & gas industry). The anti-science-left wants us all to die of cholera, measles, and mass starvation so long as we all use only “all-natural” medicine and food, supposedly because humanity survived before the modern stuff.

True — and life was miserable because everyone was sick or hungry until they died, hopefully not before popping out enough surviving children to keep the species going.

I’m fine with the critiques of environmental sustainability of food production, but many of the modified crops are more sustainable and have a lower ecological impact than the “natural” and “organic” competitors. And I want everyone to have enough to eat, which is hard to execute without higher-caloric food and drought-resistant crops.

I’m also not going to sit here and pretend that more or less every crop consumed by humans for the past wasn’t genetically modified by humans, via trial-and-error and then formalized food science, for the past twelve thousand years. You can be mad at the health effects of some of the engineered food combinations, and you can be mad at the role of the broken patent system in the GMO world, but you can’t be mad at “genetically modified” food as a concept, because then you’re just mad at all food humans have ever grown.

Even the maize the English colonists found in the “New World” in the early 17th century was engineered by indigenous populations of the Americas for thousands of years before it was a productive, large-ish food crop even close to modern corn. It’s not some twisted Mary Shelley novel up in those food genetics labs. They’re figuring out how to feed everyone.

Meanwhile, the critiques of modern, settled medical science (such as vaccination) are unacceptable and dangerous, as previously covered by Arsenal For Democracy. The only exceptions are on things we know are still in need of improvement, such as pain management and antibiotic over-use. But nobody is going around claiming those areas are a-ok. Doctors and researchers are pretty aware of those problems and are working on them.

Everything that is settled won’t be re-opened just by you rolling out of bed and checking up on your favorite conspiracy blog, the one your buddy from suburban parenting group told you about. Maybe start worrying about actual, verifiable pollution of drinking supplies near vulnerable populations (often non-white and usually low-income) before telling your doctor she’s a sheep for trying to get your kid vaccinated to go to school.

Between the two anti-science factions — right and left — it’s no wonder this country is seeing a rise in childbirth deaths of women and has an infant mortality rate not matched in peer nations. But at least we’ll be back to everyone dying at 30 — like God and/or crunchy Mother Earth intended. YOLO.