Better nutrition education helps reduce malnutrition

Eating well is vital for a healthy and active life, but many people in virtually all countries do not eat well because of poverty and a lack of nutrition education, according to FAO.


22 November 2005, Rome - “To be food secure, families need sufficient resources to produce or purchase adequate food,” said FAO Nutrition Officer Peter Glasauer. “However, this does not guarantee good nutrition and health as we can see from the diet-related health problems among even more affluent population groups. People also need an understanding of what constitutes an appropriate diet for good health, and they must have the skills and motivation to make the best food choice available to them.”

Meeting the Millennium Development Goals

FAO stresses that nutrition education is a key for developing the skills and motivation needed to eat well, and is especially important in situations where families have limited resources. It is also in those same low-income situations that the challenge of providing nutrition education is often the greatest. A lack of trained personnel, coupled with a shortage of libraries, books, guidelines, other sources of information, and non-existent or slow internet connections, make educating people about nutrition a formidable challenge. But meeting this challenge is essential if progress is to be made on the global commitment to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Fundamentally, the MDGs are about improving the health and welfare of the poor, and in most instances this cannot occur without improvements in nutrition. While the links among poverty, hunger and malnutrition, which is the focus of MDG1, are obvious, nutrition also has an important role to play in the other MDGs as well. Nutrition is central to efforts to improve maternal and child health (MDGs 4 & 5) and to combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases (MDG 6). Better nutrition among schoolchildren also contributes to achieving MDG2, universal primary education, by reducing absences and enabling students to better concentrate and learn more.

Bridging the gap between knowledge and action

As part of its global efforts to strengthen nutrition education activities FAO produces a number of information, communication and educational materials. Some of the more recent publications are described below.

The Family Nutrition Guide helps governments and non-governmental organizations to inform and motivate people to adopt healthy diets and lifestyles throughout their lives.

“The Guide is a basic nutrition education tool that can play a vital role in promoting good eating habits,” according to Ellen Muehlhoff of FAO’s Nutrition Education and Communication Group. “It was written primarily for health workers, nutritionists, agricultural extension workers, or other development workers, because these are the people most often working with poor rural and urban families. It also gives many suggestions on how to communicate and share this information when working with groups of people.”

The Guide can also be helpful to individuals or community groups who want to know more about nutritious family feeding. With chapters like "Getting enough food", "Making good family meals" and "Keeping food safe and clean", the Guide can improve family nutrition in a number of areas.

While the illustrations and food examples in the Guide reflect the situation in East African and Southern African countries, the basic information is relevant for all regions of the developing world and similar nutrition education material for other developing countries can be produced using this book as a model.

Nutrition Education in Primary Schools – A Planning Guide for Curriculum Development

This package will assist educators to establish effective nutrition education in schools. This practical hands-on material consists of a technical reader, a set of worksheets and a classroom curriculum chart and gives step-by-step guidance in planning or redesigning a nutrition education classroom curriculum and related school-based nutrition activities. But the Planning Guide goes further; it should “add value” to a standard curriculum development process because it adopts a “whole school” approach. This means that classroom learning is linked with practical action, backed up by improvements in the school environment and family and community participation.

Growing international interest shown in nutrition publications

Teaching Aids at Low Cost (TALC), based in the United Kingdom, and India-based Transformation Net, or Parivartan Net, which works to educate and empower farmers, women and other rural populations, have expressed interest in translating and distributing the FAO publications to teaching institutions in a number of developing countries.

Improving access to adequate food and promoting better dietary intakes are central activities in FAO’s drive to reduce the number of hungry and malnourished people in the world, thus helping achieve the World Food Summit and Millennium Development Goals.