Health Leaders Endorse Major Effort to Fight Chronic Malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean
PAHO strategy targets multiple causes of stunted growth throughout the life course
Washington, D.C., September 30, 2010 (PAHO) — Top health authorities from throughout the Americas today endorsed a major new effort to reduce chronic malnutrition, the most serious nutrition problem in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Nearly 9 million children under 5 in the Region suffer from chronic malnutrition. Some 22.3 million preschoolers, 33 million women of childbearing age, and 3.6 million pregnant women suffer from anemia. These figures are ethically unacceptable in a Region where food production exceeds the nutritional requirements of the entire population by 30 percent.
Malnutrition affects physical growth and mental development, increases the risk of illness and death and negatively affects human capital and economic well-being. In addition, malnutrition is a major factor perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Recent research suggests that malnutrition also contributes to chronic noncommunicable diseases. Low height-for-age, or stunting, is the primary indicator for chronic malnutrition and is also considered a proxy indicator for the overall living conditions of a population.
The causes of chronic malnutrition are multiple and include maternal malnutrition, poor diet, and repeated infections as immediate causes. But underlying causes such as lack of access to basic sanitation and health services, low educational levels of mothers, food insecurity, and social inequality also play major roles.
To be effective, policies and programs must address the determinants of malnutrition rather than just its effects and must intervene across the life course, rather than just during pregnancy or childhood.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) strategy approved today calls on countries to:
- Implement policies and programs that address the social determinants of nutrition and health, emphasizing education for girls and women, food security, household income and purchasing power, housing, and adolescent, maternal and child health.
- Ensure the participation and coordination of different ministries and adequate resources at the national, municipal, and local levels.
- Place priority on implementing these programs in communities that have rates of chronic malnutrition of 15 percent or more.
- Develop human resources to manage and implement these programs and provide health workers with training on key food, nutrition, and health issues.
- Promote partnerships between the public and private sectors, academia, international cooperation agencies, and society at large, and strengthen links between national and regional initiatives geared to promoting nutrition, health, and development.
- Improve nutritional surveillance by collecting data on gender, ethnicity, and geographical area to improve policymaking, forecasting and prevention of nutritional problems. Report periodically on the prevalence of chronic malnutrition, acute malnutrition, overweight, obesity, and anemia in pregnant women and children under 5.
- Promote international and national sharing of information and lessons learned about successful strategies to reduce chronic malnutrition.
The strategy calls on PAHO to provide technical cooperation in all these areas to support countries’ efforts.
The PAHO Directing Council meets each year to set priorities for Pan-American cooperation in health and to guide PAHO’s technical cooperation programs in its Member States.
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).
- PAHO’s 50th Directing Council blog
- 50th Directing Council: Program of meetings and other useful information
- See photographs of the Directing Council