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Nutrition in developing countries

The prevalence of malnutrition worldwide is staggering. Globally, over 2.3 billion people suffer from malnutrition in one form or another. Of these over 2.3 billion people, it is estimated that:

Women and girls are at higher risk of being affected by malnutrition—60% of the world's hungry are women according to the World Food Program. Women and girls are at heightened risk of malnutrition due to systematic discrimination; women and girls typically eat the least and eat last.

Nearly half of the children who die before they reach the age of five suffer from undernutrition. They do not have enough nutritious food and essential vitamins and minerals to grow, develop and fight off disease.

Millions of kids become permanently mentally and physically disabled because of inadequate nutrition. Undernourished children show stunted growth patterns by the age of three and have poorer cognitive skills than their well-fed peers.

Beyond these human tragedies, there are also economic implications. Researchers believe that these preventable deaths and disabilities also reduce a country's economic potential by at least 10% due to lost productivity.

Ending malnutrition is essential to improving and saving lives

At the root of all forms of malnutrition are many common causes, notably poor diet quality. Contemporary food systems are unable to deliver nutritious, safe, affordable, inclusive and sustainable diets, which became starkly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Malnutrition is caused not just by the lack of adequate, nutritious food, but also by frequent illness, poor care practices, and lack of access to health and other social services.

The changing nutrition landscape, the COVID-19 pandemic, contemporary agricultural production, demographic changes, and climate change have all highlighted the need to take a broader, "multi-sectoral food systems approach" to ending malnutrition, in order to build strong food systems that have positive nutrition and health outcomes. Double duty interventions – or actions, which simultaneously prevent or reduce the risk of undernutrition and obesity or non-communicable diseases, with the same intervention, program, or policy – are critical to tackling malnutrition.

Micronutrients and why they are important

Micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron, folic acid, zinc and iodine offer one, high-impact and cost effective way to improve birth outcomes for mother and child.  Babies born to women with inadequate nutrition may have many complications including birth defects, premature birth, and death. Vitamin A is a critical micronutrient for children under 5 years to ensure sustained growth and development, including vision and immune system strengthening.

Children who receive adequate nutrition are not as likely to die from diseases like diarrhea, malaria, pneumonia, measles and HIV. Children who receive adequate nutrition in the first 1,000 days are more likely to stay in school, contribute to the needs of their family and reach their full potential.

Micronutrient requirements are high in adolescents. Adolescence is seen as the "catch-up" period for growth, which presents a critical "second window" of opportunity to improve nutritional status. Adequate nutrition has a formative role in the timing of puberty while lack of nutritious foods and infections make it difficult for women and girls, in particular, to grow and have healthy babies.

Every dollar spent on nutrition has great return

Experts around the world recognize that investing in the delivery of nutrients has tremendous benefits. It is estimated that every dollar spent on nutrition for a child sees an average return of $30 over their adult life.

Through global nutrition investments children will live longer, healthier lives and contribute to the development of their countries.

As one of the world's largest donors to nutrition programs, Canada has brought international attention to the issue of under-nutrition. We support critical nutrition programs that reduce child and maternal mortality, empower women and girls, and promote health development through the lifecycle.

Nutrition priorities

Canada recognizes that too many women and girls, particularly adolescent girls, continue to be denied access to the full range of health and nutrition services.

Canada is a strong believer that good nutrition is a key component of empowering women and girls. Women play an important role in food production and household food consumption decision-making. The quality of care and feeding offered to children, which is an important factor in preventing malnutrition, is critically dependent on women's education, social status, and workload.

Canada works to improve gender-sensitive nutrition for the poorest and most marginalized by enhancing access to nutritious food, micronutrients and comprehensive nutrition services, and supporting nutrition-sensitive food systems throughout the lifecycle, with a focus on women, young children, and adolescent girls. 

Canada takes a "twin tracked" approach to food security and nutrition that supports targeted policy, programming, and advocacy efforts with the greatest potential to close gender gaps. This includes direct action to immediately tackle hunger and micronutrient deficiencies for the most vulnerable, alongside long-term nutrition-sensitive interventions, that address the root causes of hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

As a strong supporter of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement Canada's Minister of International Development has specified three nutrition priorities that Canada will bring forward as part of the SUN Movement strategy from 2022-2025:

  1. To promote a comprehensive approach to the empowerment of women and girls.
  2. To advocate for increased international investment in key gap areas, such as nutrition.
  3. To reach the most vulnerable with effective nutrition interventions.

Supporting partners in the field

Canada is the founding donor of Nutrition International (formerly the Micronutrient Initiative) and the largest donor to vitamin A programs worldwide since 1998. We are also a lead donor to the global effort to help prevent iodine deficiency, the leading cause of preventable mental impairment.

We support Canadian and international organizations including UNICEF, the World Food Program, the Global Nutrition Report, Global Financing Facility, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, Helen Keller International, World Health Organization, Canadian Foodgrains Bank, HarvestPlus, FHI360, Care Canada, Save the Children, World Vision, Effect-Hope (The Leprosy Mission of Canada), Mennonite Economic Development Associates, Action Against Hunger, CGIAR, and International Fund for Agricultural Development in delivering essential health and nutrition services. This work also supports multi-sectoral innovative delivery platforms and is led by national country priorities.

With the increasing need for gender-sensitive nutrition data, Canada is partnering with Standing Together for Nutrition to explore the impact of COVID-19 on women and adolescent nutrition.

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