Food and Nutrition
What is malnutrition?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines malnutrition as an imbalance in a person’s intake of energy or nutrients. This imbalance results in two conditions, either undernutrition, in which one has micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies, or obesity, in which one over-consumes nutrients. Malnutrition, in all its forms, includes undernutrition (wasting, stunting, underweight), inadequate vitamins or minerals, overweight, obesity, and resulting diet-related noncommunicable diseases. Malnutrition affects people in every country, and has profound, long-term effects on health and life prospects. It is responsible for more ill health than any other cause, and is a social and economic problem, holding back development across the world.
Despite significant progress over recent decades, poor nutrition remains an immense and universal problem, with one in three people in the world affected by some form of malnutrition. Nearly one in four, or an estimated 150.8 million children under the age of 5 are stunted (low height for their age), 50.5 million suffer are wasted (low weight for their age) and 20 million newborn babies are estimated to be of low birth weight. Meanwhile, the number of overweight children worldwide has remained stagnant for more than a decade, with 38.3 million children under the age of five being overweight as of 2018.
How does proper nutrition lead to improved performance in schools?
Preventing malnutrition is the most effective way of achieving long-lasting results. From the first 1,000 days of conception until the age of two is the most pivotal time for prevention, seeing as a mothers and child’s nourishment and care have the most profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn and thrive. The damage done during this short time-frame can cause stunting and can have irreversible cognitive effects, greatly limiting a child’s potential for learning once they enter school. It is important to note that children are proxy indicators for the severity of a crisis, their well-being indicating the severity of their health and nutritional status as well as the status of their mothers.
Improving the nutritional status of school-age children is an effective investment for improving their educational outcomes. Studies show that providing in-school meals and take-home rations through school feeding programs alleviates short-term hunger, increases children’s ability to concentrate, learn and perform specific tasks, and increases female enrollment. School feeding programs are proven to draw more children into classrooms and provide a social support measure that helps keep children in school, especially in low-income and highly food-insecure areas. In fact, 45 studies of school meal programmes showed that children receiving school meals during the entire school year attend school 4-7 days more than children whose schools do not. They also aid in better nutrition, as fortified school meals and snacks consistently reduce anemia prevalence and improve micronutrient status. School-based food and nutrition education (SFNE) expands beyond the classroom, engaging the children’s household and broader community. When schools offer opportunities to promote healthy dietary and physical activity patterns for children, this encourages the prevention of child malnutrition, and it is shown to have positive health effects on younger siblings of students.
Food, Nutrition and Emergencies
Conflicts and natural disasters are exacerbating this problem. Climate change, environmental degradation and natural hazards are disproportionately affecting vulnerable communities, and violent conflicts threaten the lives of millions of children and their families. Emergency situations are often characterized by limited access to adequate safe food and water, as well as disruptions in health and nutrition services. In these instances, food assistance is essential to saving lives, and providing the right nutrition at the right time can also help to change lives by understanding people’s long-term nutrition needs. By linking short-term emergency response to long-term assistance, organizations address the root of food insecurity and aid in breaking the cycle of poverty.
Hunger and malnutrition are key concerns for refugees and displaced populations, many of whom suffer from one or more forms of malnutrition. Of the 815 million undernourished people in the world, 489 million live in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence. Additionally, 122 million out of the 155 million stunted children in the world reside in conflict-affected countries. For many refugee children around the world, the classroom has become one of the few places where they can feel normal and safe. During crises, school feeding successfully meets basic nutritional needs while getting children back into the classroom. In Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, school feeding programmes are helping Syrian refugee children improve their nutrition and are encouraging parents to send them to school regularly. The meals include fresh fruit, locally-baked snacks and a carton of juice or milk, providing them the energy they need to learn, and teaching them the basics of good nutrition and the importance of balanced meals.
- 821 million people - approximately 1 in 9 people in the world - were undernourished in 2017. (source)
- 149 million, more than 1 in 5 children under the age of 5, were stunted in 2018. Globally 49 million children under 5 were affected by wasting, and 40 million were overweight in 2018. (source)
- Of the 815 million undernourished people in the world, 489 million live in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence. (source)
- 122 million out of the 155 million stunted children in the world reside in conflict-affected countries. (source)
- Undernutrition is associated with around 45% of deaths among children under five, mainly in low and middle-income countries. (source)
- Malnutrition in all its forms costs society up to US$3.5 trillion per year, with overweight and obesity alone costing US$500 billion per year. (source)
- School feeding programmes can get children into school and help them stay there. Studies have shown that the programmes can increase enrollment by an average of 9%. (source)
- At least 368 million pre-primary, primary- and secondary-school children receive food from school meal programs around the world. India now feeds more than 100 million children; Brazil 48 million; China 44 million; and South Africa and Nigeria each feed more than 9 million of their children. In all of these countries, over half of the children that are fed are girls. (source)
This collection was developed with the support of Aysha Joan Liagamula Kayegeri, Common Wealth Expert.