Nutrition

All Country Offices in MENA are empowered to ensure all children are well nourished and receive optimal nutrition that will promote their growth and development

health worker measuring arm circumference of a child
UNICEF/Syria/2017/Souleiman

Challenges

The MENA region made remarkable progress during the MDG era, starting from an already relatively advanced baseline. But progress towards the MDG goals and targets was uneven between and within countries, with inequalities widening. The uprisings in the region that started in 2011 had widespread impact and gave rise to new conflicts and unprecedented displacement. As a result, MDG progress slowed for some goals in some countries and there were even reversals of progress in countries most affected by conflict and displacement. Assessments of progress across 13 countries[1] at the end of the MDG era suggest that progress has been greatest in the eradication of extreme poverty and access to improved sanitation. On the other hand, there is insufficient progress related to targets on undernutrition in a significant number of MENA countries.

The MENA region consists of low- and middle-income countries that are facing a double of burden of malnutrition (i.e. stunting, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies) and over-nutrition (i.e., overweight and obesity) and the associated chronic, non-communicable diseases (NCDs).  The nutrition situation of young children across MENA reveals inequities in the nutrition status of children under five between and within countries.  Additionally, the region has been inundated with on-going conflicts for many years, further affecting the nutrition status of the most vulnerable population, women and children. The effects of persistent conflict in MENA are not limited to death and injuries, but include secondary in-direct consequences such as the deterioration of social, economic, and health conditions, both in conflict-affected countries as well as neighbouring countries. Nutrition interventions vary between conflict and non-conflict countries as the former appear to have interventions focused on treatment of acute malnutrition and saving lives. Moreover, these countries undergo wider sub-national inequity, especially within wealth quintiles and area of residence.

 


[1] Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, State of Palestine, Yemen.

Solution

Adequate nutrition during pregnancy and the first two years of life is necessary for normal brain development, laying the foundation for the development of cognitive, motor and socio-emotional skills throughout childhood and adulthood. Appropriate breastfeeding practices can contribute to a child’s healthy emotional and cognitive development. In contrast, lack of adequate nutrition (including iodine) and other related consequences such as stunting and low birthweight can compromise children’s motor and cognitive development. Children with restricted development of these skills during early life are at risk for later neuropsychological problems, poor school achievement, early school drop-out, low-skilled employment, and poor care of their own children, thus contributing to the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

 

Investment in stunting is key to achieving Sustainable Development Goals 1,2, and 3 which demand to end poverty in all its forms everywhere (Goal 1), end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture (Goa1 2), and ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages (Goal3).

Across the region, UNICEF is working to ensure that by 2030 all forms of malnutrition are eliminated. 

As the lead agency on nutrition, we will focus on a  life-cycle approach to programming that puts children, adolescents and women at the center of our advocacy, policy, programme and knowledge  work (i.e. move away from ‘the intervention’ at the center).

There will be a focus on Nutrition for Growth and Development (i.e. Thrive!). We will recast the narrative of Nutrition in UNICEF linking Nutrition to the growth and development of children and nations.

We aim to put  greater focus on:

                  - Complementary foods in early childhood (diet quality/diversity)

                  - Nutrition of school-age children and adolescents

                  - Prevention of overweight/obesity

                  - Maternal nutrition

                  - Food Systems for children and women

                  - Scale up of CMAM as part of routine services for children

                 

UNICEF will prioritize investing in stunting reduction, given its critical link to child development and overall national development and a greater recognition that stunting in nearly life could lead to overweight and NCDS later in life. 

 

UNICEF  will use stunting as a key indicator for monitoring maternal, infant and young child nutrition as well as indicators relating to anemia in women of reproductive age, low birthweight, child overweight, exclusive breastfeeding and wasting.

UNICEF will also support adopting multi-sectoral approaches combining both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions to bring about a more holistic sustainable response to improved child nutrition.