Making systems work for nutrition
Strengthening systems across sectors to tackle child malnutrition.
National governments have the primary responsibility of upholding children’s and women’s rights to nutrition. To do this effectively, they need strong, resilient systems that help prevent all forms of malnutrition and deliver timely treatment and care when prevention falls short.
Multiple systems – including food, health and social protection – have a role to play in making the right to nutrition a reality. A systems approach recognizes that ending malnutrition in all its forms calls for a shared responsibility to tackle the multiple determinants of child malnutrition.
Together with civil society, development partners and the private sector, governments must mobilize systems to drive sustainable change for children and their families.
UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2019 report highlighted the failure of food systems to deliver nutritious, safe and affordable diets for children, and issued a call to action to realize every child’s right to adequate nutrition over the next decade.
Our approach to transforming food systems is based on the Innocenti Framework on Food Systems for Children and Adolescents, developed by UNICEF and partners in 2018.
UNICEF engages with the food system to:
- Improve national food standards and guidelines
- Improve the quality of foods available in the supply chain
- Foster healthy food environments through policies and legislation
- Advocate for healthy food environments in places where children live, learn, eat, play and meet
- Improve food and feeding practices for children
UNICEF engages with the health system to:
- Improve the design, implementation and monitoring of policies and programmes to prevent and treat malnutrition through primary health care
- Strengthen health workforce capacity to deliver essential nutrition services
- Integrate the delivery of essential nutrition supplies within the health system
- Strengthen information systems to collect, analyse and use data on nutrition
- Advocate for financial resources to be allocated to improve nutrition services delivered through primary health care
UNICEF engages with the water and sanitation system to:
- Provide free, safe and palatable drinking water for healthy diets
- Improve access to safe sanitation services and practices in households, communities, schools and health facilities
- Promote safe hygiene practices and food handling for good nutrition
- Strengthen the capacities of the water and sanitation workforce to improve nutrition
- Develop partnerships with water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes and monitor their impact
UNICEF engages with the education system to:
- Develop policies and programmes that improve nutrition in schools
- Improve school curricula to promote healthy eating behaviours and active lifestyles
- Deliver essential nutrition services, such as micronutrient supplementation and nutrition education, through schools
- Advocate for healthy food environments in and around schools
- Encourage governments to allocate resources for nutrition in the education system
UNICEF engages with the social protection system to:
- Generate data on the linkages between poverty and malnutrition to inform policies and programmes
- Advocate for greater public financing for maternal and child nutrition
- Support social policies for nutrition, such as maternity protection and other family-friendly policies
- Support social protection programmes to improve nutrition, such as cash plus programmes, that facilitate access to better diets, nutrition services and practices
- Foster social protection systems that are shock-responsive and resilient in times of crisis
Ten key actions to improve young children's diets
1. Increase the availability and affordability of nutritious foods – including fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish, meat and fortified foods – by incentivizing their production, distribution and retailing.
2. Implement national standards and legislation to protect young children from unhealthy processed and ultra-processed foods and beverages and harmful marketing practices targeting children and families.
3. Use multiple communication channels, including digital media, to reach caregivers with factual information and advice on feeding young children, and increase the desirability of nutritious and safe foods.
4. Expand caregiver access to quality counselling and support on feeding young children by investing in the recruitment, training, supervision and motivation of community-based counsellors and workers.
5. Deliver dietary supplements, home fortificants and fortified complementary foods to young children at risk of micronutrient deficiencies, anaemia, and growth and development failure.
Social protection system
6. Design social transfers – cash, food and/or vouchers – that support, and do not undermine, nutritious and safe diets in early childhood, including in fragile settings and in response to humanitarian crises.
7. Use social protection programmes to improve caregivers’ knowledge about feeding young children by providing education and counselling and by encouraging the use of health and nutrition services.
8. Position young children’s right to nutritious and safe diets as a priority in the national development agenda and ensure coherent policy support and legislation across sectors and systems.
9. Strengthen public accountability for young children’s diets by setting targets and tracking progress through sector-specific monitoring systems and household surveys.
10. Conduct research to understand context-specific barriers, enablers and pathways to improving the quality of young children’s diets, including – but not limited to – availability, affordability and desirability.