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UNICEF Image: Indonesia, 2009: Ainul Mardiah waits with her 18-month-old daughter Zaidah at an integrated community health centre on Sumatra Island.
© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1899/Josh Estey
Indonesia, 2009: Ainul Mardiah waits with her 18-month-old daughter Zaidah at a community health centre on Sumatra Island.

All children, including children with disabilities, have the right to adequate nutrition, as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Moreover, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) highlights the duty of States Parties to prevent discriminatory denial of health services or food and fluids on the basis of disability. Nutrition and disability are intimately related: both are global development priorities; and both can only be addressed by also tackling issues of poverty, ensuring equity and guaranteeing human rights.

Children and adults with disabilities often do not benefit from the same level of services, as the non-disabled population.1 This is due to a variety of reasons, including inaccessible premises and professionals that are not able to communicate adequately with persons with disabilities.2 In situations of limited resources, the exclusion of children with disabilities may be based on the incorrect belief that preserving the health and welfare (and even life) of children with disabilities is a lower priority than preserving those of a non-disabled child.3

Access to sufficient nutritious food is often an issue of concern to families having a member with disabilities because of poverty and unequal distribution of resources within the household. Access to nutritious food for women with disabilities and their children is consistently overlooked in both the nutrition and disability sectors, placing those women and children at increased risk.

UNICEF’s nutrition programming can address disability in several ways:

  • Collaboration between the health and disability agendas is critical to tackling malnutrition, including strategic communications which are disability-friendly, do not further stigmatize, and reach the target audience
  • Educating the disability community, government and clinicians at all levels about the link between nutrition and disabilities is crucial
  • Community based interventions provide useful entry points to strengthen and support families to meet children's special needs for care.  Early screening and diagnosis must be linked to the provision of timely and appropriate nutrition support and advice
  • A twin-track approach is needed which includes both disability mainstreaming and setting up special services, where needed, to reach children with disabilities and their families or caretakers

Key References

  • Background Note for the Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities - Inclusive Nutrition for Children and Mothers with Disabilities. This overview of the current situation summarizes the links between nutrition and disability and identifies potential areas where the global partnership may influence the global agenda, UNICEF, 2012.
  • Inclusive nutrition for children and adults with disabilities - Evidence-based article, published online in The Lancet, August 19, 2013. The article provides strong links between nutrition, disability, poverty and human rights.
  • Leave! Developmental Difficulties in Early Childhood - Prevention, early identification, assessment and intervention in low and middle-income countries. This significant addition to the literature provides a clear overview of much of the most recent, evidence base available on the links between nutrition and early child development, World Health Organization, 2012.
  • Maternal and child undernutrition - The paper summarizes recent information on the links between the nutritional status of mothers and children, and the long-term implications related to health and development. [Special series], Lancet, January 2008.
  • Improving child survival through environmental and nutritional interventions - A review of interventions that are specifically targeted towards poor populations, with strong emphasis on prevention of impairment through such programmes, Gakidou E et al, JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2007, 298:1876-1887.
  • Explaining Child Malnutrition in Developing Countries: A Cross County Analysis - Smith, LC and Haddad, L., Washington DC, International Food Policy Research Institute. An international comparative analysis of child malnutrition issues, with implications for stunting and long-term impairments, 2000.


1. WHO/World Bank, World Report on Disability. Geneva, 2011. 

2. Shakespeare T., Lezzoni L, Groce N. Disability and the training of health professional, Lancet. 2009; 374 (9704): 1815-6.

3. Groce, N., People with Disabilities, in B. Levy and V. Sidel, Social Injustice and Public Health, Oxford University Press, 2009.


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