WHO Experts Raise Antiquated Nutrition Standards

Major implications for millions of malnourished children

Geneva, October 6, 2008 — After decades of neglect and poor standards for nutrition programs, the international nutrition community has put forth a clear set of principles to reduce deaths in moderately malnourished children. These new standards could positively impact 55 million moderately malnourished children worldwide, but only if they are translated into more effective food programs.

After a week-long meeting, World Health Organisation (WHO) experts have just agreed that animal source foods such as dairy products are the first and most effective choice to treat moderately malnourished children. According to the medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), this new standard can significantly reduce child deaths. But the impact of these new rules will depend on the creation of new initiatives to support and fund programs.

Currently, food programs targeted at moderately malnourished children are mainly cereal-based and lack many of the nutrients young children need.

"Fortified blended flours based on wheat or corn plus soy that are so widely used no longer meet the new minimum criteria that the WHO experts have just set for young kids," said Christophe Fournier, President of the MSF International Council. "With everyone now agreeing that malnutrition in children needs to be treated with animal source food, this should be the beginning of the end of providing poor quality diet to malnourished, vulnerable children."

In the areas most devastated by malnutrition, such as South Asia, the Sahel, and the Horn of Africa no other condition contributes more to death and illness in children.

The newly recommended animal source foods will make nutrition programs for children much more expensive. MSF estimates that it will cost 3.5 billion euros annually to adequately address moderate malnutrition worldwide.

“National governments and donors need to urgently put new policies and funding in place to implement these new standards," said Fournier. "Not doing so would be endorsing double standards in which we would continue to give food aid that we would not feed to our own children."

MSF has recently made it a policy to treat all malnourished children with at least some animal source food and has begun to implement this strategy in all its nutrition programs worldwide. In 2006 and 2007, the organization treated over 150,000 malnourished children in 22 countries with therapeutic and supplemental food.

The WHO experts meeting for "The Dietary Management of Moderate Malnutrition" was held in Geneva from September 30-October 3, 2008.