Efforts to ease the epidemic of under nutrition that affects about 2 billion people globally have made some progress, but only 58 of 118 tracked countries are on course to reduce hunger and micronutrient deficiencies by 2015, according to a UK report.
The UK Department for International Development (DFID) said while there had been mostly nutrition-led advances in East Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean and Central and Eastern Europe, progress in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa was “insufficient”.
About 80% of the world’s children with stunted growth are located in these countries and, globally, under nutrition accounts for about one third of all child deaths.
20 countries in those two regions had made no progress at all since a 2009 DFID paper that drew heavily on a series of measures outlined in The Lancet medical journal in 2008.
The Lancet identified measures such as counseling about breastfeeding, fortification or supplementation with vitamin A and zinc, and appropriate management of severe acute malnutrition.
Better interventions for maternal nutrition including iron and folate food supplements, multiple micronutrients, calcium, and balanced energy and protein were also mentioned.
This came at the same time as the 2008 ‘Copenhagen Consensus’ which ranked three nutritional interventions in its top 5 development solutions for emerging nation populations. These were Vitamin A and zinc supplements for children; fortification of staple foods; and micronutrient fortification.
The 2012 Copenhagen Consensus ranked improving nutrition as the top development intervention, emphasising the first 1000 days of life – from conception to early infanthood.
But despite a host of programmes, the years have shown many impediments to the implementation of such actions. The DFID identified the biggest hurdles, many of which were logistical in nature:
1. Invisibility of nutrition within national development plans
2. Lack of enthusiasm within government for inter-sectoral actions
3. Coordination difficulties that impair the functioning of multi-stakeholder platforms (inflexible vertical programmes, rigid consultative bodies)
4. Insufficient human resources for nutrition sensitive development
5. Lack of capacity to implement nutrition-specific interventions at scale
6. Absence of budget lines for effective implementation
7. Inability to synergise nutrition interventions at local level
8. Shortage of multi-year development assistance financing for nutritional outcomes.
The number of children with acute malnutrition – about 8% of all children – is little changed from 1990, when the level was 10%.
Under nutrition weakens the immune system, stunts mental and physical growth and development. The effects can be life-long, passed between generations, and can affect how well children perform at school and their capacity to learn and earn later in life.
See a map of global under nutrition here .