Malnutrition means badly nourished but it is
more than a measure of what we eat, or fail to eat.
Clinically, malnutrition is characterized by inadequate
intake of protein, energy, and micronutrients and by
frequent infections or disease. Nutritional status is the
result of the complex interaction between the food we
eat, our overall state of health, and the environment in
which we live in short, food, health and caring,
the three pillars of well-being.
Malnutrition: casting long shadows
Although often an invisible phenomenon, malnutrition
casts long shadows, affecting close to 800 million people
20% of all people in the developing world. As a
- Malnutrition kills, maims, cripples and blinds on a
massive scale worldwide.
- Malnutrition affects one in every three people
worldwide, afflicting all age groups and populations,
especially the poor and vulnerable.
- Malnutrition plays a major role in half of the 10.4
million annual child deaths in the developing world; it
continues to be a cause and consequence of disease and
disability in the children who survive.
- Malnutrition is not only medical; it is also a social
disorder rooted in poverty and discrimination.
- Malnutrition has economic ripple effects that can
Protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) is by far the most
lethal form of malnutrition. Children are its most
visible victims. Malnutrition, the silent
emergency, is an accomplice in at least half of the
10.4 million child deaths each year. These young lives
are prematurely and needlessly lost.
Called micronutrients because they are needed
in only miniscule amounts, these substances are the
magic wands that enable the body to produce
enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for
proper growth and development. As tiny as the amounts
are, the consequences of their absence are severe.
Iodine, vitamin A and iron are most important in global
public health terms; their lack represents a major threat
to the health and development of populations the world
over, particularly to preschool children and pregnant
women in low-income countries.
Infant and young child feeding practices
Nutrition and nurturing during the first three years are
both crucial for lifelong health and well-being. In
infancy, no gift is more precious than breastfeeding; yet
barely one in three infants is exclusively breastfed
during the first four months of life.
Nutrition in emergencies
Malnutrition is rampant among refugees and displaced
populations, representing 21.5 million people in 1999.
Many are at risk of malnutrition and mortality. The risk
depends on factors such as the state of civil insecurity,
food unavailability and inaccessibility, and inadequate
delivery of assistance.
Food aid for development
Hunger afflicts one in every seven people on Earth. For
many households, the need to provide for the next meal is
so pressing that the smallest investment of time or
energy in tomorrow is practically impossible. For hungry
people, survival is a struggle and development an
Food and nutrition policies and programmes
Eliminating hunger and malnutrition is technically
feasible. The means are there. The challenge lies in
generating the requisite political will, developing
realistic policies and taking concerted actions
nationally and internationally.