1. Rationale and aims of the study
It is well recognized that household food insecurity is one of the three underlying causes of malnutrition. At the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) held in Rome in 1992, food security was defined in its most basic form as physical, social and economic access by all people at all times to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Thus food insecurity exists when people lack access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food and are therefore not consuming the food required for normal growth and development, and for an active and healthy life. This may be due to the unavailability of food, insufficient purchasing power, inappropriate distribution, or inadequate utilization at household level. Food insecurity, poor conditions of health and sanitation, and inappropriate social and care environment are the major causes of poor nutritional status.
It is difficult to know how many households or even individuals are food and nutrition insecure, given the multiple dimensions (chronic, transitory, short-term and long-term) of food and nutrition insecurity and intrahousehold inequalities of differing natures in different regions. Because of the lack of a universally applicable indicator and the lack of understanding household dynamics and factors influencing its dynamics, it is difficult to design or evaluate policies and programmes intended to address household food and nutrition security or to examine the impact of non-household food and nutrition security policies or programme activities on household food and nutrition security.
To shed light on these issues, in 1995 the WHO Department of Nutrition for Health and Development (NHD) home web page began undertaking a multicountry study on improving household food and nutrition security for the vulnerable. The main aim was to provide guidance for policy-makers to ensure that household dynamics, and cultural, socio-economic and behavioural considerations are routinely included in development policies and programmes that are intended to improve household food and nutrition security for the vulnerable, e.g. infants, young children, adolescents, pregnant and lactating women, the disabled, and the elderly.
The specific objectives of the study were to:
- Identify factors influencing the dynamics of intrahousehold food and other resource distribution for improving nutrition security of the vulnerable;
- Stimulate and build national capacity for operational research on determinants of health, nutrition and behavioural change, and approaches to enhancing the health, nurturing, caring and development functions within households and communities;
- Facilitate household and community-based interventions to ensure and enhance family well-being with specific focus on caring for the vulnerable;
- Foster the development of human resources and programmes to protect and promote nutrition security of the vulnerable;
- Collect and disseminate scientific and technical information, and facilitate and encourage an international exchange of ideas and experience in the area of household food and nutrition security.