Mr Palm's speech during the national conference on "Education system and curricula for healthy eating" held on 15 May 2013
Let me start by congratulating the Education and Health sectors on this initiative to work together on improving the nutrition of children in Albania. The interventions are part of the nutrition programme implemented by the Albanian government and supported by UNICEF, WHO, and FAO.
Malnutrition overall in Albania has declined in the recent years. But nutrition especially of young children remains a concern; in addition to the existing under-nutrition, improvement is also hampered by the growing incidence of overweight and obesity. This causes a “double burden” of malnutrition.
Research confirms that investing in nutrition significantly multiplies positive outcomes in maternal and child health, cognitive function and the ability to learn, human capital, and economic growth and poverty reduction.
Good nutrition has to start during the first 1,000 days and continue as long as children grow. Aside from making sure that parents are well informed, children themselves can easily learn good nutrition practices in school, and bring knowledge on healthy eating habits to their families – thus becoming agents of change in their communities.
Less malnutrition substantially reduces the burden on the national economy and generates human and social capital to fuel economic development. According to a recent cost benefit analysis, the Albanian economy loses every year 97 million dollars as a consequence of malnutrition. Some specifics:
Iron deficiency is the most widespread preventable nutritional deficiency in the entire world – rich and poor, developed or developing countries. There is plenty of evidence that anaemia in children leads to much less productivity as adults. Iron deficiency causes cognitive deficits and developmental delays, inhibiting children to learn as well as they could. Anaemia remains a concern and I urge the authorities to increase awareness through the education system and systemic interventions such as flour fortification.
Iodine deficiency causes many health problems, reduced cognitive development and poor school performance. The 2007 survey from the Institute of Public Health shows that 55 percent of school children suffer from iodine deficiency disorders. Salt iodization is the most sustainable intervention. The government needs to be congratulated on its legislation for Universal salt iodization. However, enforcement of the law - approved in 2008 - remains a challenge. Just do it.
Overweight and obesity are a major risk. According to a 2009 survey on Healthy Behaviors 15 percent of school children were overweight and 4 percent obese.
Multi-sector actions are required to strengthen nutritional outcomes, as malnutrition is the manifestation of problems in many areas (health, education and knowledge, agriculture, consumer protection and so on). Most importantly, the various sector policies need to be coherent so they reinforce and don’t inadvertently undermine each other. We therefore urge the 5 ministries who are signatories of the Memorandum of Understanding on nutrition, to now proceed with the approval of the new Food and Nutrition Action plan (2013-2020) and back this plan with realistic budgets. Years of efforts and huge amounts of money have been invested in preparing the plan – which we think is a good one – and we don’t see any reason for further delay.
Broad based partnerships with teachers, doctors and nurses, parents, children and communities are needed. This is not difficult. I love this new book for schools, which is an excellent example for how we can work together to create the conditions for healthy eating and healthier lifestyle in Albania.