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The Dietary Energy Consultancy Group (IDECG) was established in 1986 by the United Nations University (UNU) in cooperation with the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS) on behalf of the UN ACC-Subcommittee on Nutrition (SCN) to promote research and to evaluate and disseminate information on dietary energy intake, requirements and metabolism in relation to human health and welfare.

The presentations and discussions at the first IDECG Workshop, held in Guatemala in 1987, made apparent the lack of a consensus on what was meant by chronic energy deficiency, especially in adults. In 1988, IDECG therefore appointed a task force with the charge of proposing an operational definition. The recommendations of this group appeared as a discussion paper in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Vol. 42, pp. 969-981, 1988). They proposed the use of low body mass index (BMI) and energy turnover for specifying the degree of chronic energy deficiency in adults.

This recommendation was based, to a large extent, on theoretical considerations, since empirical data that would have helped to validate the proposed criteria were very scarce at that time. The publication in the EJCN, however, had a catalytic effect, and a considerable amount of work has since been undertaken in many parts of the world to validate the proposed criteria and cut-off points.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was attracted to the possibility of using BMI as a measure of the nutritional situation in a country and commissioned Prof. W. P. T. James, of the Rowett Research Institute, to compile some of this information in a report entitled Body Mass Index: an objective measure for the estimation of chronic energy deficiency in adults. Subsequently, representatives of both IDECG and FAO felt that it was important and timely to organize a meeting to review in greater depth the functional correlates of low BMI and to try to derive from this a clearer view of the meaning and functional significance of this indicator.

We are grateful to Prof. W. P. T. James, who played an important role in the conception of the Workshop programme and also agreed to act as the main editor of these Proceedings, as well as to FAO for hosting this Workshop as an informal meeting on 4-6 November, 1992, at its headquarters in Rome. Funding for the Workshop was provided by the United Nations University (UNU), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The publication of these Proceedings was made possible by a grant from the Nestle Foundation.

Beat Schürch
Nevin S. Scrimshaw

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