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General Nutrition Issues

Despite the world-wide increase of food availability, there are still around one billion people malnourished. Malnutrition is the condition that develops when the body does not get the right amount of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and organ function. The current number of people that are malnourished is far above the target of the first Millennium Development Goal.

The consequences of malnutrition can be severe. A lack of micronutrient intake leads to both frustrated physical as well cognitive development. In the sense of frustrated physical development, stunting is an indicator that is recognised to be a  direct result malnutrition. When a person is stunted, he or she is too short for his age. Although height is the main indicator, this does not mean that that is where the negative results of malnutrition end. People who are stunted will also suffer from fatigue, weakness, they will be more prone to disease and will have a lower cognitive development. In developing countries like Indonesia, Ghana and Kenya, stunting levels of 30% and higher are widespread and will be even higher in some provinces.

Underweight and wasting

Because malnourished people are more prone to disease, child mortality also has a strong relation to a lack of micronutrient intake. Research shows that as much as 53% of child deaths worldwide can be connected to a lowered resistance against diseases due to a lack of intake of healthy food. The link is particularly strong for children that come to pass as a direct result of diarrhea, which is the main disease from which children die worldwide.

There is now substantial evidence that malnutrition has life-long negative impacts on productivity and the income-generating potential of the population. Agricultural programmes need to become more nutrition sensitive.

It is very hard to address issues like stunting and high child mortality. However, it is not impossible. Crucial are the first 1000 days of a human life. These 1000 days start from the moment of conception, as sound nutrition during pregnancy is of the highest essence. After the first 1000 days it is nearly impossible to have a significant effect on an indicator stunting like stunting, cognitive development and equip a child with the necessary resistance against diseases. In other words, if malnutrition in the first 1000 days of a human life is not adressed, a person will suffer the consequences throughout the remainder of its life. As the first thousand days are so important, children and lactating women are core to nutrition interventions. 

Evidence that malnutrition has a direct negative effects on health are increasingly recognised to also have negative effects froma wider development perspective. There is growing evidence that malnutrition leads to losses in GDP and productivity. Example. This is has also been an important incentive for governments in developing countries to prioritise nutrition in their development strategies. Rwanda is an example of such a country where the issue of nutrition has rapidly earned a prominent place on the agenda over the past few years. The same prioritisation is also taking place with regard to donors and international organisations, such as the UN, which has launched the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement in 2009.