Among the public at large, few people are aware that the work of IAEA extends beyond the realms of nuclear power and safeguarding against the misuse of radioactive materials. Indeed, for many years now, IAEA has been applying isotopic and other techniques in a vast array of global scientific challenges-from controlling marine pollution and understanding climate change to boosting livestock production. One of the potentially most fruitful areas for new health-related applications of isotope techniques is in the field of human nutrition. IAEA activities in Human Health, as well as in Technical Co-operation, include a new emphasis on isotope techniques as tools to evaluate human nutritional status and the nutritional quality of foods within the context of national development programmes. These techniques are now considered the best methods for measuring the uptake and bioavailability of many important vitamins and minerals. They are thus well suited for determining the success of food supplementation programmes and other interventions aimed at combatting the many forms of malnutrition.
This booklet provides a brief description of pioneering IAEA-supported work to evaluate vitamin A and iron deficiencies, bone disease, undernutrition and obesity and the special nutritional requirements of pregnant and lactating women and their children. And while it shows that the role of the Agency remains highly specialized - to develop and transfer nuclear-based evaluation tools - each of these areas of applied research aims at improving the scientific foundations for broader national food and nutrition-related development policies and programmes.
Considerable progress toward this objective has been achieved in several Member States. But many targets of opportunity remain to be explored. Member States with an interest in collaborating with the IAEA in this area need to:
- identify potential centres of excellence within their countries for application of isotope techniques in human nutrition evaluations;
- investigate uses of isotope techniques that would improve the cost-effectiveness of national food and nutrition programmes;
- request assistance of the IAEA's Departments of Research and Isotopes and Technical Co-operation in applying isotope techniques that can improve diets, prevent disease and promote better health through isotope-based nutritional evaluation.
In addition to promoting further collaboration at the governmental level, this booklet is also intended to bring these exciting scientific developments to the attention of nutrition and health communities, aid donors, the news media, and the publics that support the IAEA. For while it is true that we live in an increasingly technologically advanced world, it is useful for all of us to be reminded that for hundreds of millions of people around the world, the bare necessities of life - sufficient food, safe water and decent shelter - remain beyond reach. Applying specialized techniques and the limited resources at its disposal, and working in partnership with many other development support organizations, the IAEA is intensifying efforts to identify sustainable solutions to these most pressing of human needs.