FAQs on nutrition

Q: What are the effects of undernutrition?

A: Undernutrition is the underlying cause of 3.5 million child deaths and 11% of the total global burden of disease.

Because undernutrition exacerbates the impact of disease, a large proportion of under-five deaths are attributable to this cause. Adequate nutrition is also vital for building the immune system and for motor and cognitive development.

Q: Are there different levels of undernutrition?

A: Undernutrition can be acute (wasting), chronic (stunting) or a combination of these (underweight).

Wasting, or low weight for height, is a strong predictor of mortality among children under five. It is usually the result of acute significant food shortage and/or disease.

Stunting, or low height for age, is caused by long-term insufficient nutrient intake and frequent infections. Stunting generally occurs before age two, including during pregnancy, and effects are largely irreversible. These include delayed motor development, impaired cognitive function and poor school performance. Nearly 30% of children under five in the developing world are stunted.

Q: Why is nutrition still a challenge?

A: Because:

  • nutrition is not considered a priority: policy-makers have a limited understanding of the issue, its causes and possible solutions.
  • nutrition is an intersectoral issue. Development work traditionally splits into sectoral silos making it difficult to tackle cross-cutting issues and to ensure good nutritional status.
  • successful pilot interventions are not sufficiently replicated at scale. Projects and programmes carried out in any given country are usually implemented on a small scale, inadequately coordinated and do not achieve the needed national impact.
  • more reliable data are needed to inform decision-makers to support the prioritisation of key areas of intervention.
  • countries have limited capacities. Limitations of strategic and operational capacity within affected countries (and regions) influence their ability to plan and implement the proven priority actions at required scale and with the appropriate integrated approach.

The benefits of the REACH approach span multiple generations

Investing in the prevention of maternal and child hunger and undernutrition enables a mother to produce a healthy child at birth, and allows the child to develop physically and cognitively to become a productive member of society.