When a person is not getting enough food or not getting the right sort of food, malnutrition is just around the corner. Disease is often a factor, either as a result or contributing cause. Even if people get enough to eat, they will become malnourished if the food they eat does not provide the proper amounts of micronutrients - vitamins and minerals - to meet daily nutritional requirements.
Malnutrition is the largest single contributor to disease, according to the UN's Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN).
Malnutrition at an early age leads to reduced physical and mental development during childhood. Stunting, for example, affects more than 147 million pre-schoolers in developing countries, according to SCN's World Nutrition Situation 5th report. Iodine deficiency, the same report shows, is the world's greatest single cause of mental retardation and brain damage.
Undernutrition affects school performance and studies have shown it often leads to a lower income as an adult. It also causes women to give birth to low birth-weight babies.
Window of opportunity
The first two years of life are the “window of opportunity” to prevent early childhood undernutrition that causes largely irreversible damage. WFP focuses on the earliest phase of life, i.e. from conception (-9 months) to 24 months of age, providing essential nutrients including vitamins and minerals.
Eliminating malnutrition involves sustaining the quality and quantity of food a person eats, as well as adequate health care and a healthy environment. WFP helps fight malnutrition by treating it -- giving malnourished people the food and nutrients they need -- but also by preventing it.