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Source: Small Island Developing States

4 September 2019: A report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) calls for health services to integrate a stronger focus on ensuring optimum nutrition at each stage of a person’s life, explaining that appropriate investment in nutrition could save 3.7 million lives by 2025. The publication stresses the role of primary health care as the foundation of universal health coverage (UHC).

The report titled, ‘Essential Nutrition Actions: Mainstreaming Nutrition Throughout the Life-course,’ argues that primary health care is the foundation of UHC, being a whole-of-society approach to health and well-being centered on the needs and preferences of individuals, families and communities. According to WHO, nutrition is a foundation for health and well-being for all, leaving no one behind, and a key element of primary health care, and plays an essential role in prevention.

Investment in nutrition will also help countries achieve the SDGs, WHO explains in a press release, while bringing substantial economic benefits: every USD 1 spent by donors on basic nutrition programmes will return USD 16 to the local economy.

The report cautions that while there has been progress in reducing stunting from 1990 to 2018 (the prevalence of stunting in children aged under 5 years declined from 39.2% to 21.9%), obesity is on the rise, both in the case of adults and children, with obesity in children having increased from 4.8% to 5.9%. Noting that 13% of the world’s population is obese, WHO emphasizes that obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal disorders, and some cancers.

The report contains a compilation of nutrition actions aimed at addressing malnutrition in all its forms, “in a concise and user-friendly format,” to help decision makers integrate nutrition interventions in national health policies, strategies, and plans based on country-specific needs and global priorities. The Organization highlights that essential health packages in all settings need to contain “robust” nutrition components.

Key nutrition interventions recommended by WHO include:

  • providing iron and folic acid supplements as part of antenatal care;
  • delaying umbilical cord clamping to ensure babies receive important nutrients they need after birth;
  • promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding;
  • providing advice on diet such as limiting the intake of free sugars in adults and children; and
  • limiting salt intake to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

[Publication: Essential Nutrition Actions: Mainstreaming Nutrition Throughout the Life-course] [Publication Landing Page] [WHO Press Release]

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