Nutrition Education and Consumer Awareness
Problems of undernutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, obesity and diet-related chronic diseases increasingly exist side by side across the world. There are more than 900 million people who are undernourished and approximately 178 million stunted children. Those who do not get enough energy or key nutrients cannot sustain healthy, active lives. The result is poor physical and mental development, devastating illness and death, as well as incalculable loss of human potential and social and economic development. At the same time, hundreds of millions of people suffer from diseases caused by excessive or unbalanced diets and many developing nations are now dealing with severe health issues at both ends of the nutritional spectrum. Countries still struggling to feed their people face the costs of preventing obesity and treating diet-related non-communicable illness. This is the “double burden” of malnutrition.
Nutrition education and communication is now recognized as an essential catalyst in the success of food and nutrition security interventions. Focussing solely on food security is unlikely to solve global malnutrition: improvements in food production alone do not necessarily translate to improvements in nutritional status. To prevent all forms of malnutrition countries need to educate their people about eating the right foods – not just more or less food. People need to know what constitutes a healthy diet and how to make good food choices. Promoting healthy and sustainable diets for all consumers is a major aim of FAO and is a vital part of the UN's overall efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of populations and foster social and economic development.
FAO has often found that dietary promotion strategies within food security interventions are compromised by weak capacity at country level. Few countries offer professional training in this field (in some it is unknown) and familiarity with behaviour change approaches is generally lacking. District and community services in health and agriculture are generally understaffed, and the limited staff available often have little training in nutrition, and usually none at all in nutrition education and dietary change. As a result, they believe that their job is simply to pass on information and advice, and this is what they do, often to little effect. The nutrition professions themselves often do not recognize the need for action-oriented nutrition education, or promote it. Strong advocacy is needed to establish dietary promotion strategies that are sustainable and eco- friendly in national policy and institutions, and there is a great need for professional capacity to integrate these strategies into health, agriculture, education and community services. Capacity for effective dietary promotion needs to be built throughout the system.
Against this background, in 2010 FAO asked for the support of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection of Germany (BMELV) to carry out an assessment of needs for professional training in nutrition education and communication in Africa. The assessment involved a review of the literature and case studies in seven African countries (Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania), including extensive interviews with over 100 experts. It was found that suitable approaches and relevant training are lacking or irregularly available in most sectors and settings and for most professional groups, and that the felt need for capacity development and advocacy in this field is high. Respondents saw an urgent need for developing and adopting a suite of professional training courses at undergraduate, postgraduate and extension levels as a framework for comprehensive capacity building.
For further information and inquiries, please contact: Ms Ellen Muehlhoff Senior Officer Nutrition Education and Consumer Awareness Group Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00153 Rome, Italy Tel. 0039 06 5705 4113 Email: Ellen.Muehlhoff@fao.org www.fao.org