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Nutrition and health

The nutrition activities of UNU: Opening remarks to the ACC/SCN meeting, 7 April 1986 at UNU Household distribution of energy intake and its relationship to socio-economic and anthropometric variables
Seasonal variations in nutritional status in rural areas of developing countries: a review of the literature
Food preferences: an implication for nutrition education and agricultural production
Comments on anthropometry, nutritional status, and energy intake
Programas de intervención alimentario nutricional en America Latina y el Caribe entre 1970 y 1984
Determinants of nutrient adequacy in a rural area of Bangladesh


The nutrition activities of UNU: Opening remarks to the ACC/SCN meeting, 7 April 1986 at UNU Headquarters

Rector, United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan

The University is enjoined by its charter to be concerned with pressing global problems of human survival, development, and welfare. At its inception in 1975, world hunger was established as one of the three areas for the initial work of the University, along with use and management of natural resources and human and social development, As in all of its activities, UNU had a primary interest in the problems of the developing countries. During the first six years, the world hunger programme of the University focused on human requirements for protein and energy and the capacity of local diets in developing countries to supply them, on post-harvest food conservation, and on food and nutrition policies. As in all of the University's programmes, these issues were approached through the instruments of scholarship: research, advanced training, and the dissemination of knowledge.

To contribute to the latter, UNU began quarterly publication of the Food and Nutrition Bulletin in 1977, in part as a successor to the Bulletin of the Protein Advisory Group of the UN System that was the forerunner of the present SCN and AGN. The Bulletin is intended also to serve the interests of the SCN, and all copy is submitted for comment to the SCN Secretariat before being finalized. It is sent to over 3,000 institutions and individuals, more than two-thirds of them in developing countries.

The fellowship and training programme of UNU places major emphasis on strengthening the capacity of key developing-country institutions to conduct research and advanced training and provide policy advice regarding national food and nutrition problems. Since 1976 nearly 600 fellowships have been awarded in the programme area of food, nutrition, biotechnology, and poverty, and more than 40 associated and co-operating institutions participate regularly in this training.

Two activities undertaken in this regard by UNU on behalf of SCN have borne rich dividends. The first of these, the series of UNU/SCN "training missions" to Africa organized by Dr. Fred Sai, at that time an AGN member, identified institutional needs and provided a stimulus to both bilateral and international agency programmes that have had a significant impact in a number of African countries.

A second notable landmark for the UNU fellowship programme in food and nutrition was the workshop on "Strengthening Developing-country Institutions Concerned with Food and Nutrition" organized immediately before the tenth session of the SCN in Rome in March 1984, and discussed on the agenda of that meeting. This workshop and the subsequent SCN discussions reemphasized the institution-building function of advanced training programmes in nutrition and food policy for national self-sufficiency. They urged first priority for national institutions that could serve regional research and training functions, followed by concentration on developing at least one competent institution in this field in every country. They also urged a special emphasis on institution-building in Africa.

In its current fellowship and training policies, UNU is following these recommendations, including a major thrust in Africa. Two UNU programme officers completed visits for this purpose to East and West Africa in late March 1986. One of these, Dr. Abraham Besrat of Ethiopia, is Training and Fellowship Officer at the UNU. The UNU's efforts in this regard have been helped by a grant of nearly $1.5 million from the EEC for strengthening food science departments in seven African universities. This will permit UNU once again to have a full-time co-ordinator for food and nutrition activities in this region.

Soon after I become the second Rector of the University in 1980, its activities were reorganized into nine programme areas, of which two—"Food, Nutrition, Biotechnology, and Poverty" and the "Food-Energy Nexus"—are directly related to the interests of the ACC/SCN. Several of the other programme areas are contributory.

Last year, the first UNU-administered research and training centre, the World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) in Finland, selected as one of its three themes "Hunger and Poverty," defined in similar terms as in the original world hunger programme of the UNU. An active research programme in this area has already been initiated by WIDER.

The initial UNU-supported nutrition research involved studies in 14 developing countries of the amount of protein in usual diets required to meet protein needs in representative groups. Another sustained effort was the research on the functional consequences of iron deficiency supported in five developing countries, which has provided firm evidence of the adverse effects of iron deficiency on cognitive performance, work capacity, productivity, and resistance to infection.

Fourteen individual projects, sponsored by UNU with funds from UNDP, on the impact of agricultural and food supply policies on nutrition and health status were completed in 1985 and are now being published in clusters in the Food and Nutrition Bulletin. The current nutrition research activities of UNU include nutrition and primary health care, social and economic consequences of chronic energy deficiency, the International Food Data System Project (INFOODS), and continuing work on iron deficiency. In the current biennium, UNU has budgeted over $2 million for research in the programme area of food, nutrition, biotechnology, and poverty.

Last March, I was asked to address the International Symposium on World Food Problems held in Yokohama, Japan, on the topic, "Will Mankind be Able to Secure Food in the Twenty-first Century" In my comments I pointed out that there are ample scientific and technological grounds for asserting that the world is capable of producing enough food to meet projected population increases for the foreseeable future. When we begin to consider, therefore, why hunger persists in today's world, we enter of necessity the murky waters of political will, vested interests, shifting social values, contradictory goals, and imprecise perceptions.

At the United Nations University our focus is a multidisciplinary one, recognizing that hunger and poverty are set in a web of economic, social, cultural, technological, and political forces. Our aim is to stimulate the nutritionist to work closely with the anthropologist, the economist, the rural sociologist, the political scientist, and many others in a collaborative effort at mutual understanding of the interplay of these many forces. Recognizing this, we seek to strengthen the capacity of institutions in the developing countries to provide the needed research, advanced training, and advisory services in food and nutrition, as in other areas of priority concern to the University.

The United Nations University tries to view the problems of hunger and nutrition within the broader context of related issues of poverty, energy, natural resources, agricultural policy, cultural beliefs and practices, urbanization, migration, secular and religious strife, national policies, and global conflict. This is clearly a difficult but necessary task and one that is unique to the Charter of the UNU.

The current UNU Medium-Term Perspective ends in 1987. By late spring 1986, discussions will begin in headquarters on the next medium-term plan. We look forward to the meetings of the SCN and AGN this week to help us identify issues and approaches to the continuing global problem of hunger and malnutrition, through which the United Nations University can make unique and appropriate contributions within the mandates of its charter and in harmony with other elements of the UN system and co-operating bilateral and private agencies.

Whether, in fact, the world will end the ancient and intolerable curse of hunger is something we must all determine. The SCN and the agencies, governments, and institutions that it represents or advises have a critical share in this responsibility. The symposium to follow on "Nutritional Consequences of Adjustment Policies during a Period of Recession" can make an important contribution. In a period of worldwide economic recession, the impact of lenders' conditions can inhibit the process of human capital formation in developing countries and so damage growth and prevent the emergence of a self-reliant capacity for further development.

In the words of a panel on human resource development that I chaired at a North-South Round Table in Istanbul in 1983, "To keep this from happening, a strategy should be devised, combining both short- and long-term elements, to insulate human resource development from the negative influences of the upheavals in the monetary system . . . taking into account the close interrelationship between human capital, financial capital, and the incentive system . . . [focusing] on action at both the international and national levels, and [involving] the public and private sectors." Specifics for action in the Istanbul statement included nutritional schemes, accelerated action in child-survival strategies and primary health care, increased emphasis within agricultural policy on production of basic food-stuffs, and action to expand income and household food production for poor families.

These topics will all be considered at your current meeting. We trust that the meeting will be both productive and enjoyable.

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