To get to Zero Hunger, food is not enough. Providing food assistance in an emergency can save lives, but the right nutrition at the right time can also help change lives and break the cycle of poverty.
This is why, as the leading organization providing food assistance to the world’s most vulnerable, the World Food Programme (WFP) prioritizes nutrition as a core element of its work.
Despite significant progress over recent decades, poor nutrition remains a colossal and universal problem, with one in three people on the planet affected by some form of malnutrition. Undernutrition – inadequate energy or nutrients – continues to affect more than 150 million children worldwide, while rates of overweight and obesity are also rising in all countries. Conflict and natural disasters are exacerbating the problem.
Malnutrition at its extremes can be a matter of life and death, and in the long term can hold back people and countries, undermining economies and development.
Where malnutrition threatens the world’s most vulnerable people, WFP is at the forefront to prevent it, and treat it when it does occur.
While addressing undernutrition in emergencies has long been our raison d’etre, our focus over the past few years has broadened to encompass all forms of malnutrition including vitamin and mineral deficiencies – also known as ‘hidden hunger’ – and overweight and obesity, alongside undernutrition. We’ve done so in recognition of the fact that, while seemingly unrelated, these problem stem from the same root causes: poverty, inequality and poor diets.
Our approach is integrated, with programmes designed to treat and prevent the direct causes of malnutrition, like inadequate diets, complementing programmes that address the underlying factors, such as poor knowledge of feeding practices or lack of clean water. We concentrate our efforts on the most vulnerable, targeting young children, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and people living with HIV.
We work to improve the availability of and access to nutritious foods, and analyze and address the barriers that people face in consuming healthy diets, such as through our Fill the Nutrient Gap situation analysis tool. We help build the capacity of countries to find long-term solutions, and contribute to the broader policy dialogue on food and nutrition security.
With today’s complex and unprecedented challenges, no one organization can end malnutrition alone. WFP is committed to playing an integral role in inter-organizational initiatives and platforms such as the Committee on World Food Security, the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, and the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, and in government-led partnerships with UN agencies, NGOs, civil society, businesses and academia, as well as local farmers, producers, retailers and communities. WFP also plays a leading role in bringing private sector partners into the fight against malnutrition as co-convener of the SUN Business Network.
Areas of work
WFP brings its nutrition expertise to support the most vulnerable before, during and after humanitarian crises. We prioritize prevention of malnutrition as it reduces the human suffering and is the most effective path to long-lasting results. When children and women do suffer from acute malnutrition—inadequate nutrition leading to rapid weight loss, or ‘wasting’, —we provide treatment and link it to long-term care to prevent them from becoming malnourished again.
The first 1,000 days from conception to two years of age are pivotal in determining a child’s destiny. In this short timeframe, the damage done by poor nutrition can cause stunting – impaired development as a result of chronic malnutrition with irreversible damage to children’s bodies and brains. WFP therefore concentrates its efforts where they will have the most impact, targeting young children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers to prevent chronic malnutrition. The right nutrition in this window of opportunity will increase children’s chances of survival, build their immune systems and unlock their potential.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Two billion people today are affected by deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals (micronutrients), which can leave them susceptible to infectious diseases, impaired physical and mental development, reduced labour productivity and increased risk of premature death. WFP tackles micronutrient deficiencies with strategies like micronutrient powders (or ‘sprinkles’ of vitamins or minerals) which can be added to home-cooked meals, fortification of staple foods with nutrients, and education to promote diet diversity.
Overweight, obesity and the double burden of malnutrition
While seemingly unrelated problems, undernutrition and obesity and overweight (with their links to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes) stem from the same causes. More and more, they are being found side by side, affecting people in the same countries, communities and families. This double burden of malnutrition is providing unprecedented challenges to the governments we support. WFP is integrating these considerations into its work, such as promoting healthy eating and ensuring that programmes provide appropriate foods in the context of rising obesity rates.