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Working together to prevent diseases caused by childhood malnutrition: WHO, UNICEF and IAEA consider joint technical cooperation activities

WHO UNICEF ecuador

Studies show that body composition in early life determines disease risk in adulthood. The first two years of life represent a critical "window of opportunity" in terms of avoiding later risks of ill-health. Nutritional interventions during this window provide the best opportunity to prevent the shorter and longer-term consequences of early under-nutrition. Determining body composition in children can help national decision-makers implement sound policies and effective nutritional programmes based on scientific data and the real nutritional needs of children.

On 26 - 27 February 2013, officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) met IAEA officials at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna to discuss body composition patterns during early life, and to plan complementary actions to address nutrition related problems, such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes. The meeting aimed to outline priorities and initiate planning processes for interagency activities on nutrition and body composition in early life. The projects would be conducted jointly by the IAEA, UNICEF and WHO, and possibly other UN agencies and partners as well.

The meeting was organized around two working groups discussing opportunities for joint projects on human nutrition, where stable isotope techniques, particularly for body composition assessment, could contribute significant information. Identified areas for possible cooperation included  the use of body composition data to better interpret skinfolds in support of growth monitoring programmes, and to improve the nutritional management of severe acute malnutrition. The meeting also outlined milestones and a work plan for the suggested project. The identified project would support and strengthen nutrition programmes and health in developing countries.

During the meeting, IAEA staff presented an overview of current IAEA activities in the evaluation of body composition, and explained how the IAEA supports nutrition projects through its technical cooperation programme. On the last day, meeting participants agreed on a mutually favourable priority agenda on early life nutrition and set up an action plan for future joint activities.

Although measurement of body composition in the infant can be challenging, it can be accomplished in community settings by using stable isotope techniques. The IAEA is a leader in this area, developing and promoting the use of standardized protocols for body composition assessment using such techniques. These stable isotope-based body composition methods provide sensitive means of assessing general nutritional status and interventions. This key information can complement and contribute to successful outcomes of the work of other UN agencies such as WHO and UNICEF, who are also active in this field.

Through joint efforts and the best possible combination of expertise, interagency partnerships can significantly contribute to minimizing the risk of poor health in adulthood by supporting better nutrition in an early life.

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