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Nutrition and Health

In order to understand how nutrients affect human health, nutritionists use molecular biology, biochemistry, and genetics theories. A part of nutrition also focuses on how people can lower their risk of disease through dietary choices, what happens if they have too much or too little of a nutrient, and how allergies work. Food consists of nutrients. All nutrients — proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water — play an essential role in the body. A person’s risk of developing certain health conditions increases if they do not consume the right balance of nutrients.

The UN declaration on UHC recognizes primary healthcare as the most inclusive, effective, and efficient whole-of-society approach to ensuring people’s physical and mental health and social well-being. The declaration further highlights the fundamental role of healthy diets and of healthy, equitable, and sustainable food systems – along with quality education, gender equality and women’s empowerment, access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and social protection mechanisms – in building healthier societies.

The case for including nutrition as an integral component of primary healthcare is compelling:

  • For decades, health systems and clinicians have focused on the medical, drug-treatment-based model of disease that ignores fundamental causes such as diet and lifestyle. The consequences of this narrow approach are evident: the global malnutrition epidemic that is sweeping the world.
  • Poor diets are among the leading health and societal challenges of the 21st century, leading to disability and death, growing inequalities, staggering healthcare costs, and environmental implications.
  • As governments and policymakers increasingly recognize the depth and breadth of malnutrition burdens, they are compelled to act. Integrating nutrition actions into health systems to promote healthier eating, and prevent and treat undernutrition and diet-related chronic diseases, could generate substantial health gains and be highly cost-effective.

Ensuring equitable access to effective nutrition interventions within health systems can play a pivotal role in improving diets, preventing and treating disease, reducing healthcare costs, and ultimately improving everyone’s health. However, these justifications are not yet matched by a robust approach that unites nutrition and healthcare in terms of equitable policy, financing, monitoring, and evaluation. Nutrition is frequently under-prioritized in national healthcare policy and financing discussions. The current Global Nutrition Report highlights the need to integrate nutrition into universal health coverage as an indispensable prerequisite for improving diets, saving lives, and reducing healthcare spending while ensuring that no one is left behind.

KEY POINTS:

  • Poor diets and resulting malnutrition are among the greatest societal challenges in our era, causing vast health, economic and environmental burdens.
  • The global commitment to universal health coverage is a unique opportunity to address malnutrition in all its forms. Integrating nutrition within health systems would generate substantial health gains and be highly cost-effective.
  • WHO’s six building blocks of a health system provide a helpful framework for comprehensively integrating nutrition into health systems.
  • Coverage and quality of nutrition actions within primary healthcare settings are limited and generally focused on undernutrition.
  • Nutrition actions are supported by only a minuscule portion of national health budgets and are typically not delivered by qualified nutrition professionals.
  • Mainstreaming nutrition within universal health coverage requires a joint effort by governments and key stakeholders to build functional and resilient health systems, supported by strengthened governance and coordination.
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