May 12 (UPI) -- Malnutrition is making hundreds of millions of people worldwide more vulnerable to the coronavirus disease, a new U.N.-backed audit said Tuesday.
The 2020 Global Nutrition Report, an annual independent assessment of food and nutrition, said most people don't have access to healthy food or can't afford it. Nutrition inequality, it says, threatens the health of about 820 million people.
"Everyone deserves access to healthy, affordable food and quality nutrition care," researchers said in an executive summary. "This access is hindered by deeper inequities that arise from unjust systems and processes that structure everyday living conditions."
Widespread malnutrition has made many even more susceptible to picking up the coronavirus disease, the researchers said.
"The Global Nutrition Report's emphasis on nutritional well-being for all, particularly the most vulnerable, has a heightened significance in the face of this new global threat," they noted. "The need for more equitable, resilient and sustainable food and health systems has never been more urgent."
The study said there's a serious need for a "pro-equity agenda that mainstreams nutrition" among inadequate food and health systems.
"With only five years left to meet the 2025 global nutrition targets, time is running out," the 168-page report states. "We must focus on action where the need is greatest for maximum impact."
The audit said one in nine people globally are hungry -- while one in three are overweight or obese, mostly in wealthier nations.
"New analysis shows that global and national patterns hide inequalities within countries and communities, with vulnerable groups being most affected," it notes. "Underweight persist in the poorest countries with a rate 10 times higher compared to the richest countries. In contrast, overweight and obesity are prevailing in the richest countries, up to five times higher."
NASA climate expert Cynthia Rosenzweig said the report should urge world leaders to address food insecurity.
"It is really a call to action for countries and international organizations, [non-governmental organizations] and the whole system, to create a transformation in the food system," Rosenzweig, of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, said. "Malnutrition is a threat multiplier. I think it has been ignored that people who are malnourished are likely to have lower immune systems."