Good nutrition is widely recognized to be an essential element in the ability to lead a healthy and productive life. Yet poor nutrition remains a critical global problem: Each year, more children die as a result of undernutrition than of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. 

Recent years have seen unprecedented global attention to nutrition, particularly following The Lancet medical journal’s 2008 and 2013 series on maternal and child nutrition, which highlighted the enormous health and economic consequences of undernutrition. Ending malnutrition by 2030 is a core element of the Sustainable Development Goals, and similarly underpins WFP’s work towards Zero Hunger. 

Fighting malnutrition

The effects of malnutrition are devastating and far reaching. It not only causes loss of life, but also weakens immune systems and increases risk of disease. It lower the success rate in education and employment, ultimately leading to the loss of productivity and wellbeing of communities and nations. It is both a result and driver of poverty and inequality.

As well as designing programmes that directly treat and prevent malnutrition, WFP works to develop national capacity for finding long-term solutions, and works to influence the broader policy dialogue on food and nutrition security. 

Along with our direct nutrition interventions, we are integrating nutrition considerations into other areas of our work – even those that previously did not have improved nutrition as an explicit goal – in order to address the underlying causes of malnutrition. We work with partners across sectors such as health, agriculture, education and social protection to create environments that foster good nutrition.  

Nutrition in early childhood crucial

Undernutrition takes the greatest toll on young children. Nearly half of all child deaths are related to undernutrition – more than any other cause of mortality. Undernourished children who survive early childhood are likely to be stunted, and cannot reach their full mental and physical potential. The burden of undernutrition stays with them for life: Stunted children are more likely to have lower education levels and lifetime earnings, as well as increased risks of chronic disease and early mortality.

Research confirms that the 1,000-day period from conception to a child’s second birthday offers a critical window of opportunity to prevent the largely irreversible damage done by early childhood undernutrition. Not only do pregnant women and nursing mothers have special nutritional needs themselves, but children whose mothers are malnourished before and during pregnancy are likely to be born already malnourished, creating an intergenerational cycle of undernutrition. 

This is why a large part of WFP’s nutrition work is directed at young children and mothers, providing deep-field, community-level support in both humanitarian and recovery situations.