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FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa

The cost of malnutrition to the human capital and the economy in terms of lost productivity and health care expenditure is staggering. It is for this reason that many countries in the Near East and North Africa are increasingly investing to reduce levels of malnutrition in both its forms: under- and over-nutrition.

Nutrition: a priority for NENA policy makers

FAO believes that improving nutrition is instrumental to the achievement of a world without hunger.

In the region, an estimated 24.5 percent of children under five suffer from stunting. Although this average is considered of moderate severity according to international standards, progress in reducing it has been very slow and has become a source of concern for policy makers in the region. The consequences of early childhood malnutrition are irreversible and intergenerational. Stunted children become stunted adults, who are 2 to 6 percent less productive than adults of normal stature. Childhood malnutrition leads to poor school readiness and performance, lower quality of learning and, eventually, to reduced competitiveness in the labor market; malnutrition perpetuates the cycle of poverty across generations.

On the other end of the malnutrition problem, obesity has been rapidly increasing in the region in the last two decades, affecting nearly one quarter of the NENA population.

The changes in dietary patterns in favor of diets high in calories, along with sedentary lifestyles are among the immediate reasons for the soaring rates of overweight and obesity in the Near East and North Africa countries.

Due to the impact they have on human lives, the diet related non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer, have turned obesity into a major concern for policy makers in many NENA countries.

The coexistence of under and over-nutrition is a double burden that many families, communities and countries in the NENA region have to shoulder.

What countries in NENA can do

FAO believes that a multi-sectoral approach to address the underlying socio-economic, political and cultural causes of malnutrition is the way forward.

Complementary interventions in agriculture, health, social protection and other related sectors need to be well coordinated, coherent and equitable. Most of all, government policies need to consciously make the food supply more adapted to the nutritional challenges of the population.

A Framework for Action to improve nutrition has been adopted by countries at the Second International Conference of Nutrition in November 2014.

The framework offers 60 recommendations per areas of intervention that countries can adapt based on national needs and priorities and is underpinned by the need to make food systems more sustainable and promoting of healthy diets.

This is the foundation of the vision NENA countries need to adopt in order to address the nutritional problems they face.