UNICEF in action

© UNICEF/ HQ00-0477/ Chalasani
A woman sifts grains of maize through her hand. Rabdure. Somalia.

UNICEF nutritional priorities include:

Providing nutrition security and nutrition in emergencies

Young children and pregnant and lactating mothers are extremely vulnerable in emergencies. UNICEF’s foremost priority is to prevent death from starvation and disease and to reduce malnutrition by supporting and protecting breastfeeding, especially exclusive breastfeeding, therapeutic and supplementary feeding, providing essential micronutrients and feeding orphans. The long-term goal is always to work with communities to address the underlying problems that create these dire situations to prevent a future occurrence or to devise better coping strategies. In addition, UNICEF promotes maternal nutrition to prevent low birth weight, monitors growth and supports country-based programs.

Improving the nutritional status of pregnant women is essential to reduce maternal deaths, miscarriage, stillbirth and low birth weight. UNICEF focuses on the need to improve the status of women and to provide adequate nutrition, care and rest during pregnancy and breastfeeding. UNICEF is works to prevent low birth weight in infants through programmes such as the Low Birth Weight Prevention Initiative which provides multi-micronutrient supplements for pregnant women.

Monitoring infant growth rates

Poor physical growth is linked closely to overall health and development. Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of children’s lives can have irreversible consequences. For millions of Children, it means they are, forever, stunted. This is a tragedy for the 165 million children under the age of 5 afflicted by stunting in the world. Recognizing that investing in nutrition is a key way to advance global welfare, the G8 has put this high on its agenda. The global nutrition community is uniting around the Scaling Up Nutrition movement. Launched in 2010, the SUN movement is catalyzing action to build national commitment to accelerate progress in reducing undernutrition and stunting. It works through implementation of evidence-based nutrition interventions and integration of nutrition goals across diverse sectors -health, social protection, poverty alleviation, national development and agriculture – focusing on the window of opportunity of the 1,000 days covering pregnancy and the child’s first two years.

The United Nations Secretary-General has included elimination of stunting as a goal in his Zero Hunger Challenge to the world. The 2013 World Economic Forum highlighted food and nutrition security as a global priority. And a panel of top economists from the most recent Copenhagen Consensus selected stunting reduction as a top investment priority. UNICEF works with governments and non-governmental organizations on a range of issues from growth monitoring to prevention and management of childhood illnesses. UNICEF supports growth monitoring in health facilities and communities, generating information that is used by the immediate care takers and local health workers to assess child growth, analyze the causes of any problems that exist, and determine necessary action.

Supporting community-based programmes

Families and communities are the key players in the battle against childhood malnutrition and must work together to assess, analyze and take action to solve any problems.  UNICEF’s strategy is to empower community members to become their own agents of change. UNICEF's role is to work with governments to support participatory, community-based programmes focusing on children’s survival, growth and development.

The Tamil Nadu Integrated Nutrition programme in South India is one of the largest and most well known community-based child survival, growth and development programmes, and outlines a history of success. Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Uganda, Kenya, Madagascar, Ghana, Niger, Oman, Brazil and others have developed similar programmes.

Infant and child feeding and care

UNICEF works to promote, protect and support immediate postpartum and exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, with continued breastfeeding and age-appropriate complementary feeding for up to 2 years or longer, and to educate families about care and feeding practices. The end goal: to empower all women to feed their children in a manner that will help them achieve their full potential.  UNICEF approaches this issues based on the WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding[link] that includes two major ongoing global programmes areas - the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) and International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes – as well as additional global, national, health system, and community efforts.

UNICEF and WHO, along with a range of partners, have formed a global advocacy initiative to increase political commitment to and investment for breastfeeding as the cornerstone of child nutrition, health and development.

The Breastfeeding Advocacy Initiative has three strategic goals:

  • Foster leadership and alliances and effectively integrate and communicate breastfeeding messages.
  • Mobilize resources and promote accountability.
  • Build knowledge and evidence to enhance breastfeeding policies, programmes, financing and communication.

Read more about the advocacy initiative
Read the global advocacy strategy

Delivering vital micronutrients

Micronutrients enhance the nutritional value of food and have a profound impact on a child’s development and a mother’s health. UNICEF works with governments to deliver key minerals and vitamins – iodine, iron, vitamin A and folate – through supplementation, fortification and promotion of micronutrient-rich diets. To achieve the goals of virtual elimination of vitamin A and iodine deficiencies, UNICEF collaborates with a diverse group of public and private organizations, forming alliances such as the Vitamin A Global Initiative.

Nutrition and HIV

With HIV/AIDS, UNICEF’s focus is twofold: reducing mother-to-child transmission of the virus during breastfeeding and meeting the nutritional needs of those who are HIV positive or affected by HIV/AIDS, such as orphans and children living in households where family members have HIV. Strategies include providing voluntary, confidential testing and infant feeding counselling for pregnant women, helping governments develop infant and young child feeding policies with HIV guidelines, encouraging and supporting breastfeeding, and promoting optimal infant feeding in hospitals.

Related programming

UNICEF's programmes in the area of child and maternal health, basic education, water and sanitation, and improved child protection contribute to the reduction of child malnutrition.



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