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
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
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.
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
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
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.