Freshwater, Fish and the Future: Proceedings of the Global Cross-Sectoral Conference

Freshwater Fish in the Food Basket in Developing Countries: A Key to Alleviate Undernutrition

Nanna Roos


How can freshwater fish contribute to improved diets and nutrition in food insecure populations with people who are either undernourished or at risk of becoming undernourished? With a focus on the nutritional problems typically affecting food-insecure populations, there may be ways to increase the contribution from freshwater fish resources to alleviate these nutritional problems for better health. Linking primary food production—mainly focusing on agriculture but equally relevant for fisheries—to the nutritional problems in food insecure populations is being investigated within the framework of nutrition-sensitive agriculture (Jaenicke and Virchow 2013). Food systems are being investigated for possible ways to be reshaped in order to narrow the gap between the food supplied and the required nutrients needed for a more balanced diet in vulnerable populations (Pandya-Lorch and Fan 2014).

What are the global nutritional problems of concern? Good nutrition is needed for all throughout life, but the consequences of poor nutrition is particularly critical in early life during the 1,000-d period from conception through pregnancy and the first 2 years of a child’s life (Bogard et al. 2015). Infants and young children are also particularly vulnerable to not being able to fulfil their nutritional requirements due to the relatively high physiological demands for energy and nutrients for rapid growth and development and limited stomach capacity.

Growth in infants and young children is assessed by comparing the individual’s growth with growth standard curves for healthy children. Poor nutrition in early life can either occur as acute energy deficiency leading to low weight (wasting) and/or chronic deficiency of nutrients and energy over a long time leading to chronic undernutrition manifested as stunting (shortness). While wasting is immediately life-threatening, shortness may not appear critical. However, stunting is documented to be associated with many health implications, including impaired physical and cognitive development (Victora et al. 2008) and increased risk of mortality (Black et al. 2013). Out of the more than 6 million children who die annually before the age of 5 years, the death of 3 million (44%) children are related to undernutrition, and of these, 1 million children die from complications that are linked to the fact that they were stunted as a result of poor nutrition and living conditions throughout their short lives (Black et al. 2013).

Although there is some encouraging progress in reducing global undernutrition, including stunting, the number of stunted children was 165 million in 2011 (Black et al. 2013), an unacceptable level. The present rate of reduction is far too slow to eliminate stunting as a public health problem within a reasonable time. With the present progress in improving nutrition, the number of stunted children in 2025 is predicted to remain high, estimated to 127 million (IFPRI 2014). Targeted efforts to improving access to nutritious foods and diets during the 1,000-d period are crucial to reduce undernutrition in food-insecure populations.