Research notes: Policy points from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts

04/19/05

Addressing nutritional problems in emergencies – an ongoing challenge

Nutritional crises, including acute malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, continue to be prevalent in almost all complex humanitarian emergencies around the world. Consequently, the field known as Public Nutrition has become a well-established and central part of the international donor and United Nations response. According to Helen Young, director of the Public Nutrition Program at the Feinstein International Famine Center at Tufts and lead author of an article in Lancet, Public Nutrition, which includes nutritional assessment, analysis and response, is delayed by practical challenges and more importantly, by research and programmatic questions.

"Outbreaks of scurvy, beri-beri and pellagra among refugees in Africa and Asia in the eighties and nineties prompted intensive efforts to develop and refine appropriate strategies for their prevention, including supplementation, fortification, and diversification of foods rations" remarks Young, also a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts.

"Experience gained with each evolving humanitarian crisis has contributed to the development of the problem-solving approach of Public Nutrition. These strategies are always complemented by broader strategies of ensuring access to an adequate diet, and the distribution of an appropriate 'food basket' to affected households," she continued.

Public Nutrition seeks to understand and identify the source of heightened nutritional risks resulting from "food insecurity, inadequate maternal and child care, and poor public health" which are the underlying causes of malnutrition. Young and her colleagues note that, "interventions and combined strategies are needed to protect, promote, and support nutrition beyond the treatment of malnutrition." Food distribution; prevention and treatment of malnutrition in children and adults; and addressing micronutrient deficiency diseases are all essential pieces of the problem solving equation. Additionally, Public Nutrition interventions can provide nutritional support for at-risk groups, including infants, pregnant women, the elderly, and people living with HIV.

"An approach that includes a developing capacity within countries affected by recurrent emergencies is essential, and the practical problem-solving approach of Public Nutrition needs to become widespread with leadership from organizations such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization," concludes Young.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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