The UN says the world is facing the burden of "double malnutrition" -- high levels of over-nutrition as well as the more commonly recognised under-nutrition.
The rising incidence of obesity in Asia and the Pacific is adding to the problem in a region which accounts for two thirds of the world's 840 million people who are chronically hungry .
Correspondent: Karon Snowdon
Speaker: Shashi Sareen, regional senior nutrition officer with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation
SNOWDON: The statistics still have the power to shock, especially as there is enough food in the world to feed everyone.
SAREEN: Under nourishment is currently at around the level of 842 million which is 12% of the global population.
SNOWDON: Shashi Sareen is the regional senior nutrition officer with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
SAREEN: And then if you look at the overweight and obesity again we have around 1.4 billion adults who are overweight.
SNOWDON: Especially in the Pacific where in seven island states 80% of adults are overweight.
That contributes to three quarters of all adult deaths in the Pacific which are due to non-communicable diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
On the other hand chronic under nutrition afflicts 40% of Papua New Guineans and Solomon Islanders.
There are similar rates of anaemia in children and pregnant women in those countries and elsewhere in the Pacific.
Shashi Sareen says beyond improved availability of better food, awareness and education of good nutrition are important.
SAREEN: It has to be a complete change of dietary patterns like shifting from highly processed foods to fresh foods and especially fruits and vegetables which have the micronutrients and fibre. So its the change of dietary pattern which is important. One of the basic methods by which this could be done is the awareness and education. So its not only the availability but it's also the awareness of consumers.
SNOWDON: The UN says the cost of health care and lower productivity if malnutrition persists at current levels for another year could be as high as three and half trillion dollars.
A group of distinguished economists known as the Copenhagen Consensus ranks dealing with malnutrition as the best way to improve the world.
Globally the largest nutrition related health burden by far is child and maternal malnutrition.
But few governments have adequate policies.
Shashi Sareen says the causes are complex but there are some simple solutions.
SAREEN: If you have wheat the protein quality of wheat is not so high but if it is mixed with a pulse or a legume the quality becomes very high. So in India when they make noodles or any extruded product they mix cereal and a pulse which improves the quality of protein. So if the food processors reformulate these foods to bring about a change in the nutrition profile this would have an impact on the nutrient content of populations.