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United Nations, WHO, Politicians Commit to Fight Poor Nutrition

Margaret Chan, WHO director general, is flanked by FAO director general Jose Graziano da Silva as she speaks during the opening session of FAO's second International Conference on Nutrition, in Rome, Nov. 19, 2014.

International organizations and 170 governments committed to battling poor nutrition on Wednesday, saying that while hunger had dropped, half the world's population was in some way affected by nutritional problems.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) said global hunger had fallen 21 percent since 1992, but people living in the same community or even the same household suffer variously from hunger, micro nutrient deficiencies and obesity.

The agencies met at a conference in Rome along with ministers for health, food and agriculture from 170 countries and adopted a declaration on nutrition that the FAO has said binds countries to take action to solve the problem.

WHO Director General Margaret Chan told delegates that social and income inequality and gaps between people's nutrition levels were at their highest in living memory.

“Something is wrong,” Chan said. “Part of our out-of-balance world still starves to death and other parts stuff [themselves] into a level of obesity so widespread that it is pushing life expectancy figures backward and pushing the cost of healthcare to astronomical figures."

Chan said there should be rules on maximum food intake to protect against diet-related diseases. According to the declaration on nutrition, poor diets and lack of exercise account for almost 10 percent of all disease and disability.

Chan criticized the attempt to stem the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa by banning bush meat, saying: “If banned from hunting, selling and consuming this food, people starve.”

The international nutrition conference runs from Nov. 19-21, with Pope Francis due to address attendees on Thursday.