Raising the levels of nutrition of all peoples is a basic FAO mandate and forms a fundamental part of the FAO programme. FAO and WHO jointly sponsored the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN), held at FAO Headquarters in December 1992, to emphasize the need for stronger action to solve the malnutrition problems which persist throughout the world. ICN delegations from 159 countries and the European Economic Community unanimously adopted a World Declaration and Plan of Action for Nutrition. These ICN documents call on every country to take steps to improve the nutritional status of all. The ICN reaffirmed that practical, accurate and cost-effective methods to identify nutritionally at-risk populations are essential to the design and implementation of effective policies and programmes to promote nutritional well-being, and to monitor the impact of such programmes.
The Food Policy and Nutrition Division of FAO has worked with member countries over many years in the implementation of policy and operational recommendations for improved nutrition monitoring. While nutrition monitoring data is a critical element needed to design and implement many types of nutrition improvement programmes, many proposed monitoring systems have proven to be very expensive to operate and too complex to enable the production of quick and accurate results. Because of this, FAO has carried out further work on simple indicators of chronic energy deficiency for adults which could provide cost-effective, quick and accurate information to planners and field workers when they are determining the nutritional needs of families, communities, special population groups, regions within countries, or countries as a whole.
After examining a wide range of possible monitoring tools, FAO selected the body mass index (BMI) as a potentially valuable monitoring approach. BMI measurements of adults' heights and weights can be quickly carried out and results are immediately available. At the community, regional, or country level at risk groups can be identified, effects of seasonal variations in food availability can be noted, and country wide trends can be detected and quantified.
To carry out an in-depth examination of the utility of the body mass index, FAO worked with the Rowett Research Institute in a programme to determine the validity of the BMI on the basis of data from different regions. The results of this work are presented in this book, Body Mass Index: a measure of chronic energy deficiency in adults. We hope that this book will be of use to government agencies, research institutes, universities and others which carry out nutrition monitoring. FAO believes that use of the BMI will serve as an extremely valuable nutrition monitoring tool, particularly for vulnerable groups such as the rural and urban poor in developing countries, and in monitoring the effects of nutrition improvement programmes. We would welcome comments, observations, and reports of use of this book in further nutrition monitoring work.
John R. Lupien
Food Policy and Nutrition Division