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Nutrition indicators for development: Priority and intervention efforts
Ma. Patrocinio E. de Guzman and Wilma L. Molano
Nutrition indicators are commonly used to measure the progress of development programmes and projects. They are used by planners and policy makers to establish baseline values, to focus attention on the problems of nutrition, and to identify development projects for nutritionally at-risk groups of the population. The selection and identification of nutrition indicators should be based on precise criteria: measurability, appropriateness, comprehensiveness, relevance, sensitivity, and impact orientation. The Philippines used five nutrition indicators in the update of the Philippine Development Plan, 1990-1992: percentage of preschool children with weight less than 75% of the standard weight for age, percentage of schoolchildren 7-10 years old with height less than 90% of standard height for age, percentage of schoolchildren 7-10 years old with weight less than 75% of standard weight for age, per capita energy intake, and percentage of households with energy intake less than 100% adequacy. These indicators were selected on the basis of their sensitivity, simplicity, and usefulness in appraising the effects of nutritional interventions and the ease of data collection.
Nutrition indicators for development
Efforts to correct malnutrition have traditionally relied on direct nutrition intervention programmes. However, limited success and the high costs of these programmes have restricted their use. Although they may be effective in preventing selected nutritional problems, the overall problem of energy and protein deficiencies among large population segments can be solved only through economic and social development. Failure to consider nutritional goals explicitly in development plans, strategies, projects, and policies may worsen the overall nutrition situation, despite improvements made by direct intervention programmes.
Including nutritional goals in development plans and strategies requires knowing the true condition of an individual, community, or country on the basis of information derived from nutrition indicators. These indicators should be available to planners for establishing baseline values and for focusing their attention on the problems affecting a population. With such data the planners and policy makers can identify development programmes and projects that will benefit the less fortunate, and monitor the progress of development projects in meeting this aim.
Nutrition indicators should be selected and identified on the basis of an organized and precise set of criteria.
The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development has presented the following five criteria  which can be used by any country:
Another set of criteria for selecting critical key indicators was used in the 1987 Economic and Social Impact Analysis and Women in Development (ESIA/WID) project in the Philippines :
In the ESIA/WID project, indicators were categorized into two groups: key indicators, which meet all the six criteria given above, and supportive indicators, which satisfy the criteria on measurability and appropriateness.
The following five steps, which have been identified for selecting indicators relevant for analysing economic development, could be adopted in selecting nutrition indicators for any development effort: (1) compilation of initial variables after review of published statistical series, (2) elimination of those with insufficient data or conspicuous defects or that do not distinguish between developed and developing countries, (3) a second reduction of variables based on duplication, (4) a third reduction to a reservoir of indicators, and (5) a final selection of a set of core indicators.
In 1983 Dr. R. U. Quereshi, regional Food Policy and Nutrition Officer of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, convened a consultation of nutrition experts from the region which identified the following four nutritional measurements as indicators for development : birth weights, heights and weights of children, dietary scores, and affordability of a survival ration. The corresponding variables were birth weights, weights for heights of children at age of school entry (i.e., at 6-7 years of age), 24-hour recall of food intake during the final year of primary school, and the cost of 1,600 kcal from the staple cereal, represented as a proportion of the average daily income in various regions of the country.
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