Feature Stories



Women from Ghana project.
IAEA Project: GHA/6/011.


Nuclear tools are helping bridge the nutrition information gap throughout the human life cycle. An active partner with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization, the IAEA is using its expertise to help Member States address nutrition problems that impact health and improve the effectiveness of intervention programmes.

From the nursing mothers to the elderly, living in urban centres or rural communities, good nutrition is everyone’s concern. Hunger and malnutrition are among the most devastating problems facing the world’s poor and needy. Their effects can have far-reaching consequences at all stages of life and even on into the next generation. The toll exacted by hunger and malnutrition is not just on individuals, but also on whole societies if too many of its members are unable to realize their economic contribution due to increased susceptibility to disease, disability, or, simply, the lack of energy to study or work. This is the socio-economic impact of poor nutrition, now being tracked using the disability-adjusted life year or DALY.


nutrition features

One DALY is equal to the loss of one healthy year of life caused by a particular risk factor to health. Nutrition-related risk factors include under nutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and over nutrition. When measured at the national level, a decrease in the DALY over time implies an increase in overall productivity and economic output.


Nutritional problems are caused by imbalances in the diet — not eating enough of essential nutrients or eating too much of only some nutrients. Traditional approaches to correcting imbalances include fortification of foods, supplementation programmes, diversification of diets and controlling parasites, particularly worms.

Fortifying staple foods with specific nutrients is a time-tested tool to address inadequacy in diets of large groups of people. For example, in northern climates milk has for decades been fortified with Vitamin D to prevent rickets and salt has similarly been fortified with iodine to reduce thyroid disease goitre. Fortification with iron is now being used to fight anaemia in developing countries. Providing additional calories and nutrients through food supplements is also being widely used, particularly for nursing mothers and school-aged children in developing countries.

But these large-scale nutrition intervention programmes are expensive to implement, making effectiveness a key consideration in implementing any such programme.

Nuclear science offers unique and versatile tools to help measure the effectiveness of interventions by studying key aspects of malnutrition. Stable isotopes are well-established tools for studying the metabolism of such important nutrients as protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Because stable isotopes are non-invasive and not radioactive, they can be safely used in nutritional studies of infants, nursing mothers and young children.

These tools can also be used to measure the bioavailability of micronutrients in fortified food, to monitor growth indicators like body mass and lean body weight and to study the interaction between nutrients in foods and pollution. Pollutants in food, traditionally considered mostly as an environmental concern, are now being recognized by nutritionists as a contributing factor to micronutrient deficiencies.



Improving Nutrition through Nuclear Science is a new brochure that provides a comprehensive look at broad spectrum of nuclear tools and IAEA activities in nutrition.


Recognizing the underlying importance of good nutrition to human health, the WHO has identified ten areas for urgent action, six of which are also priorities for the IAEA:

• global strategy on infant and young child feeding;
• maternal/foetal malnutrition and low birth weight;
• HIV/AIDS and nutrition;
• micronutrient malnutrition through fortification;
• obesity and overweight; and
• malnutrition of older persons.

The IAEA is also working to establish new measurement networks in nutrition metrology — the science of (nutritional) measurements. The goal of these networks is to improve comparability of nutritional measurements internationally by systematically studying how these measurements are made. Such efforts are already bearing fruit. A new study is being started to monitor nutritional requirements in persons living with HIV/AIDS and the impact of improved nutrition on the progress of the disease.

The IAEA is a partner in addressing nutrition and health problems in more than 50 member States, in close collaboration with local institutions, other UN organizations and major donor countries, most recently joining the WHO in the development of its Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. The goal is to develop a strategy that will improve health and reduce common risks of chronic (non-communicable) diseases.

The potential that nuclear science offers to improve human nutrition is being realized not just by the many successes of IAEA projects (see Success Stories), but also by bridging another critical gap — building the local expertise needed to find real solutions to local nutritional problems, i.e. human capacity development.



«« Back

BurkartMr. W. Burkart, Deputy Director General, Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications:
IAEA programmes are not about selling a method, but empowering local communities to find real solutions using non-invasive technology”

IyengarMr. V. Iyengar, Senior Officer for IAEA nutrition programme:
work represents the first well-coordinated effort to monitor body composition measurements of people living with


Click here to see the Web pages on nutrition
for a comprehensive look at IAEA activities.

Download for brochure acrobat.jpg

Alleviating hidden hunger. IAEA Bulletin acrobat.gif
Nutritional and Health-Related Environmental Studies
WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health
TC Annual Report
17th International Congress on Nutrition (2001)