Food for Thought: Report indicates nutrition problems in Armenia

Food for Thought: Report indicates nutrition problems in Armenia

The risk of food insecurity and malnutrition may cost dearly to Armenia in the future, international organizations dealing with these problems warn.

The Comprehensive Food Security, Vulnerability and Nutrition Analysis (CFSVNA), which presents Armenia’s economic, food security, and nutrition status, suggests a dual malnutrition burden that hampers the ability of Armenia to reach its full human and socio-economic potential.

Jointly developed by the National Statistical Service of the Republic of Armenia (NSS RA), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the report’s findings are based on the Integrated Living Conditions Surveys (ILCS) for the period 2008-2014.

The report indicates that 28 percent of households are at risk of becoming food insecure if affected by any shock. Further, 19 percent of children aged under 5 are reported to be stunted – a condition caused by chronic malnutrition in which children are small for their age – and almost 15 percent were found to be overweight. This dual burden of poor nutrition, combined with micronutrient deficiencies and disease, presents a significant public health concern.

“Hunger has many costs,” said WFP Representative in Armenia Pascale Micheau. “Previous international studies have shown that child undernutrition impacts negatively the Gross Domestic Product of the country as a result of increased healthcare costs and lower productivity. “It also adds to education costs. Food-insecure households have fewer educated members and allocate less of their overall income to education expenses,” said Micheau.

The report recommends early identification of malnutrition risks as a means of reducing stunting, while tackling overweight and obesity through increased awareness on proper nutrition. It also suggests strengthening food security through investments in youth and women employment, rural development, social protection, and education. Further, it calls for improved safety nets as a crucial measure to reduce the potential impact of natural disasters and economic stresses on households’ food and nutrition security.

Currently, WFP contributes to the food security and education of children in Armenia through nutritious meals in primary schools.

The agency, which has been present in Armenia since late 1993, supports the Government in developing a nationally owned, sustainable school feeding programme. School Feeding using locally produced food is a nutrition-sensitive social safety net and an investment to effectively address food insecurity and malnutrition, while supporting local economic development.

“Poor nutrition can cause irreversible damage to children, it can affect their brain and body development, their school achievement, as well as health and productivity later in life,” said UNICEF Representative in Armenia Tanja Radocaj.

“Pregnancy and early childhood – the first 1,000 days – are especially critical, which means we need to find ways to improve nutrition not only of young children but also of mothers. “Without access to nutritious food and awareness of its importance, we cannot expect healthy, strong and productive population in the future,” said Radocaj.

The UN Resident Coordinator in Armenia Bradley Busetto emphasized the high level of stunting among children under five. “Stunting not only affects family living standards, but also impacts the economic development of affected countries through its correlation with GDP growth. I am not sure people realize how high it is. It is time to get together and do something to address it.

By mobilizing resources and joining efforts of the Government and UN agencies it is possible to design effective interventions,” he said.