Zero child hunger: breaking the cycle of malnutrition

from Institute of Development Studies
Published on 02 Dec 2011 View Original

Six million children die of hunger every year. Over 40 per cent of children under five in countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Nepal and Niger are stunted.

Children that do survive are more likely to have heart disease, diabetes and renal damage. Many solutions to malnutrition are nutrition-focused agricultural interventions like bio-fortification, home gardens, dairy and livestock development and aquaculture.

The first issue of the 3ie-IDS brief Evidence Matters addresses the fundamental question of whether there is sufficient evidence to show that increased household income and better diets improve children’s nutritional status.

"There are many stages in the chain that have to be navigated if nutrition-focused interventions are to work. They have to increase production, increase the food consumption of young girls and infants and they must not divert time away from caring for women and infants. This is a tall order but one that is not impossible," says Lawrence Haddad, Director at IDS.

The evidence shows that nutrition-focused agricultural interventions are short term and cannot address the root causes of malnutrition like chronic poverty and maternal health. While such interventions may increase income from one source, they can also result in reduced income from other sources which may mean no change in overall buying power.

Agricultural interventions to tackle malnutrition are not reaching the poorest and those most at risk to chronic hunger such as orphans and other vulnerable children. Many development agencies believe that fortifying foods with vitamins and minerals is a cost- and time-effective way to tackle malnutrition, but more studies showing positive impact are needed for justifying further investment in such programmes.

To read the complete systematic review, see Masset et al. 2011 (PDF).