Last week, international agricultural leaders met in Washington, DC to discuss plans to dispense and develop agriculture data collected in various countries to report global food security and nutrition.
Nutrition security is defined as secure access to an appropriately nutritious diet (ie, protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water) coupled with a sanitary environment and adequate health services and care, in order to ensure a healthy and active life for all household members. Nutrition security requires that all people have access to a variety of nutritious foods and potable drinking water; knowledge, resources, and skills for healthy living; prevention, treatment, and care for diseases affecting nutrition status; and safety-net systems during crisis situations, such as natural disasters or deleterious social and political systems.
Food security is a part of nutrition security and exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. The four pillars of food security are availability, access, utilization, and stability. Although nutrition security requires food security, the two terms are sometimes merged into the term food and nutrition security to emphasize both food and health requirements.
Two important limitations with current food security measurements are that the term food is generally equated to food energy only, usually from just a few staple foods, failing to measure the wide variety of foods that are needed to provide all the nutrients for an active healthy life; and terms are often used incorrectly and/or interchangeably for hunger (a feeling/scarcity of food), undernourished (lacking nutrients), malnourished (poorly nourished), and food insecurity (lack of foods needed for a healthy life).
The effect of income on nutrition security depends on the local cost of living and social and political systems providing access to land, food, water, housing, health care, and education. Dramatic increases in international food prices have the greatest impact on low-income, food-deficit countries. The recent financial, energy, and food crises have negatively affected poor consumers through soaring food prices; reduced household income; and reduced health and social assistance. Lack of dietary diversification aggravates the problem. The cause of the food price crisis is not necessarily an underlying shortage in global supply, but a combination of high energy prices, pockets of agricultural failure, the financial crisis, and national policy errors resulting in a general price panic. In some countries, there are also increasing demands on the food supply for feeding livestock and making biofuels. Nations are at a higher risk for volatile food prices if their nutrition security is dependent on global financial systems and oil, such as for producing agrochemicals, operating machinery for harvesting, processing, and transportation.
Globally, approximately 30% of children under 5 years old are stunted and 18% are underweight. As growth slows down, brain development also lags behind and, as a result, stunted children are more likely to learn poorly. The global prevalence of underweight and stunting in children under age 5 years is decreasing, but prevalence is still unacceptably high in some regions. Approximately 15% of children are born underweight; however, almost 60% of newborns in developing countries are not weighed at birth. Access to caloric intake in developing nations has increased during the past 40 years. In 1969-1971, 33% of the population had inadequate access as compared with the current estimation of 16% in 2010.
Micronutrient deficiencies affect more people (36%) than caloric deficiencies (12%), emphasizing the importance of addressing the quality of food in agricultural systems. Micronutrient deficiencies result in fatigue, lethargy, reduced learning ability, brain damage, reduced immunity, miscarriages and other pregnancy complications, blindness, and goiter, and raise the risk for mortality, especially from diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, and measles.
The following five micronutrient deficiencies are of particular concern: iron deficiency, folate deficiency, vitamin A deficiency, zinc deficiency, and iodine deficiency disorder. It is estimated that >1 million children’s deaths worldwide could be prevented with adequate vitamin A and zinc and an additional 24,500 deaths prevented with adequate iron and iodine. Adequate micronutrient status improves health and intellectual abilities and the evidence for addressing deficiencies is compelling, cost effective, and achievable.
Sustainability creates and maintains conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony and fulfills the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations. During the last 50 years, the physical and functional availability of natural resources has shrunk faster than at any other time in history due to increased demand and/or degradation of biodiversity, soil, forests, water, and air. This has been compounded by a range of factors, including human population growth, changes in lifestyles, and diets that use more land, water, and energy resources. It is imperative to encourage environmentally responsible practices that conserve natural resources, minimize# the quantity of waste generated, and support ecological sustainability of the food system.6 Individuals can make the biggest single contribution to the environment by shifting to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
Agriculture contributes to the livelihood of 40% of the world’s population with 90% of farmers owning <5 acres. Agriculture is multifunctional because it produces or contributes to food, medicines, nonfood items, ecological services, livelihoods, social stability, culture, and tradition. The combination of community-based innovations, local knowledge, and science-based approaches maximize output and sustainability of food and water resources.
Local food systems, local consumption, and domestic outlets for farmers’ products can alleviate the risks inherent in international trade. Investment in local infrastructure, marketing systems, extension and communication services, education, as well as research and development, can increase food supply and improve the functioning of local agricultural markets, resulting in less volatile prices
Micronutrient deficiency prevention and control strategies include:
- Increased food diversity with improved dietary quality, bioavailability, and quantity;
- Disease control;
- Improved knowledge and education on prevention and control for policy makers and the general public;
- Supplementation to high-risk groups; and
- Where deficiencies are high, fortification technologies, such as biofortification, open market fortification of processed food, and targeted fortification
Schools that integrate health and nutrition into their classrooms and communities can become centers of excellence and hubs of knowledge and practice beyond the school-aged child. School meal programs provide complete or supplemental meals to promote nutrition, school participation, and learning potential. Gardens in schools can spread to communities and increase awareness of the importance of good nutrition and dietary diversity. Integrating health and nutrition education into lessons, meals, and gardening activities promotes healthy habits such as dietary diversity, food and water safety, food processing, nutrient preservation, sanitation, and hygiene.
Members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (registered dietitians; dietetic technicians, registered; and other health practitioners) have an important role in achieving global nutrition security whether working domestically or internationally. The tips that follow show how to become involved in promoting global nutrition security:
- Increase awareness of how current world events relate to malnutrition.
o Promote awareness of global nutrition security issues.
o Learn about, respect, and understand diverse customs and cultures.
o Write articles addressing global nutrition security for your local newspapers, state Academy association, political leaders, and nutrition or health promotion newsletters.
o Encourage support for global and domestic outreach efforts promoting nutrition security.
o Become actively involved to ensure nutrition security programs support sustainable development.
o Establish a class on global nutrition security issues.
- Network by joining a professional internationally focused interest group.
o Join organizations such as: The Overseas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; the Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy; the American Society of Nutrition’s International Nutrition Council; the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior’s International Special Interest Group; the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior’s International Nutrition Education Division or the American Public Health Association’s International Health Section.
o Attend national and international professional meetings that have a strong agenda addressing global nutrition security.
o Become familiar with international food assistance and education programs such as Oxfam America, Heifer International, or Bread for the World.
- Volunteer in local, national, or international humanitarian assistance efforts and medical missions.
- Take a class in global nutrition.
o Learn more about the ramifications of domestic policy decisions on world food security (eg, trade, food regulations, import and export tariffs, and foreign aid).
o Learn about the policies, programs, and issues related to nutrition security.
- As the nutrition experts, registered dietitians and dietetic technicians, registered, can provide continuing education seminars to other nutrition and medical professionals.
- Become more “green” as you make personal choices. Personal and national decisions affect our immediate environment and also people and environments in other parts of the world.
o Teach others how changes in their eating and purchasing practices can reduce consumption of the world’s nonrenewable resources.
o Support sustainable food and water efforts locally and internationally (eg, gardening, water filtering, well construction, fish ponds, and reforestation).
Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Nutrition Security in Developing Nations: Sustainable Food, Water, and Health