Nutrition and Health in North Korea: What’s New, What’s Changed and Why It Matters

Smith, Hazel Anne (2016) Nutrition and Health in North Korea: What’s New, What’s Changed and Why It Matters. North Korean Review, 12 (1). pp. 7-34. ISSN 1551-2789

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Article Type: Research Paper
Purpose: To examine the changing health and nutritional status of the North Korean population since the famine of the mid-1990s and the dominant perspective that little has changed since in the DPRK.
Design, Methodology, Approach: Using hitherto neglected data from major international organizations, this research charts the little-known changes in patterns of food availability and food accessibility in aggregate, national terms, with some disaggregation of the data by gender and age. The DPRK is compared to other poor countries, other Asian countries and near neighbors in East Asia.
Findings: Despite a precarious economy, the end of systematic food provision by the government, and a decline in aid from international organisations after 2001, the data shows that by the mid-2010s, national levels of severe wasting, an indication of famine-like conditions in the population, were lower than in other low income countries globally and lower than those prevailing in other developing countries in East Asia and the Pacific. Poverty and ill-health remained – as shown especially in terms of maternal health and infant mortality – but the incidence of malaria sharply declined and although the incidence of tuberculosis was up, the numbers of fatalities from both malaria and TB sharply declined.
Practical Implications: This research contributes to a shift in North Korean Studies from securitized, opinion-based discussions in which North Koreans are either ‘victims or villains’, and which very often obscures or ignores mundane but important facts on the ground, towards careful, qualified, data-based analysis of societal change in the post-famine era of marketization in the DPRK.
Originality, Value: The research shows that post-famine DPRK is not the outlier state that is commonly presented in scholarly, policy and global media analysis.

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