Nutrition Research Highlighted

Economist, Reuters note increasing attention to nutrition issues

Donors, governments, and researchers throughout the world are recognizing the dire effects of malnutrition, and the importance of policies and programs to fight it. Programs and research to improve nutrition are coming to the forefront of global discussions on poverty and hunger, and government officials are realizing that simply filling bellies will not fill important nutritional needs for human mental and physical development.

The Economist noted “a shift in the world’s approach to fighting hunger” with an emphasis on improving nutrition by supplying micro-nutrients, not simply supplying additional calories. Policy programs such as Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) and international institutions from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank to Save the Children are helping policy makers understand and combat this “hidden hunger.”

IFPRI’s research is supporting these efforts. IFPRI Division Director Marie Ruel, quotes in the article, explains the complexity and broad approach needed:

“… nutrition can also be improved in all sorts of ways, including by better sanitation, which reduces intestinal diseases and enables people to absorb more nutrients; by investing in smallholder farming, to increase dietary variety; by vaccinating children against diseases; by educating women to breastfeed babies for longer, to improve immunity."

Ruel suggests priorities, saying: “focus on the first 1,000 days of life (including pregnancy); scale up maternal-health programmes and the teaching of good feeding practices; concentrate on the poor; measure and monitor the problem.”

The HarvestPlus program is also highlighted as a method to fight malnutrition. HarvestPlus breeds and distributes seeds for biofortified staple crops that contain extra nutrients, including vitamin A-rich cassava in Nigeria and iron-rich beans and pearl millet in Rwanda and India.

Reuters reported on the phenomenon in India of extremely high malnutrition in the face of economic growth and the rise of a well-to-do middle class, and emphasized the importance of policies that focus on nutrition.

Survey results in India show that 42 percent of children under five are underweight -- almost double that of sub-Saharan Africa, even while per capita incomes have more than tripled in the last decade. The children who are “wasted” or have low weight for their age will, if they survive, grow up “shorter, weaker, and less smart than their better-fed peers.”

India’s public spending on health is among the lowest in the world.

Reuters quotes IFPRI Research Fellow Purnima Menon, who has been working on maternal and child nutrition in the region, who calls it “a national shame, and “a marker of the many things that are not going right for the poor of India."