Nutrition: more than just food (Winter 2017)

[Individual articles from the Winter 2017 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Nutrition and malnutrition are often viewed as technical matters of food consumption. Are we eating the right amount of food? Are we eating the right kinds of food to get the vitamins and minerals our bodies need? This technical view of nutrition, however, misses many of the potential barriers to getting the right amounts of the right kinds of foods. In doing so, it also obscures opportunities to address the cultural and social barriers to improve nutrition. Authors in this issue of Intersections explore ways to expand our understanding of nutrition in order to broaden opportunities for improving nutrition practices and outcomes.

Although much nutrition programing still emphasizes trainings on dietary diversity or increased access to food, the idea that strong nutrition programs require a broad approach is not a new one. In the 1990s, UNICEF developed a three-layer framework of factors that affect good nutrition. At the individual level, malnutrition can be caused by immediate factors, such as lack of food or inadequate dietary diversity. At the household and community level, underlying factors like child care practices, income poverty or an unhealthy environment can also lead to malnutrition. At the societal level, social, cultural, economic and political factors contribute to individual and household willingness and ability to practice good nutrition.

This framework not only expands the picture of barriers to good nutrition beyond a technical question of calories and vitamins: it also broadens the scope of nutrition interventions. Nutrition programing can work from any of these levels, although, as we see in the articles below, work that addresses barriers to good nutrition at a variety of levels has the most potential to impact nutrition positively.

In this issue, we seek to look at how issues of culture, gender, household power dynamics and a changing environment contribute to malnutrition. Contributors from Nepal, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso and Canada outline contextually appropriate approaches for combatting malnutrition at different levels. While these authors write from diverse contexts, a commonality emerges from their articles, namely, the importance of local knowledge of the social and cultural context and strong community relationships in developing relevant nutrition interventions.

Leah Reesor-Keller and Martha Kimmel serve with MCC in Nepal as co-representative and food security advisor, respectively.

Learn more

Meeker, Jessica, Stephen Thompson, Inka Barnet. Nutrition Topic Guide. (October 2013). Available at www.heart-resources.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/HEART-Nutrition-Topic-Guide.pdf.

European Union and UNICEF. Multi-Sectoral Approaches to Nutrition: Nutrition-Specific and Nutrition Sensitive Interventions to Accelerate Progress. Available at www.unicef.org/eu/files/101322_000_Unicef_Brief_NutritionOverview_A4_v1r15.pdf.

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