Main Article Content

Does the distribution of ready to use food products for the prevention of undernutrition meet the ultimate needs of the beneficiary?

A McLellan


Various nutrition products are increasingly being used to treat  undernutrition in humanitarian and development interventions. The United Nations (UN), International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs), and donor agencies have increased their promotion of Ready to Use Foods (RUF) -both therapeutic and supplementary- for the prevention of  undernutrition. Undernutrition is a major global public health problem and remains a leading cause of death of children worldwide. Irreversible changes on normal physical growth and cognitive development in  undernourished children can have lasting consequences in terms of  increased susceptibility to disease, threatened livelihoods, and shortened lifespans. Undernutrition is commonly found in low-income groups, in developing countries, and is strongly associated with poverty. Major  consensus exists regarding the use of Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods  (RUTF) in the treatment of Severe and Acute Malnutrition (SAM). There is,  however, less evidence to support the use of RUF in the prevention of  undernutrition. Some humanitarian actors worry that too great of a focus on the distribution of RUF in the prevention of undernutrition will detract from investments in preventative long-term and sustainable interventions that address the multiple causes of undernutrition and food insecurity.  Sustainable interventions lie in the development of more productive local agricultural, a more diverse mix of nutritious crops, and a greater public  awareness regarding feasible, low-cost, and local approaches to a healthy diet. RUF has little to no role to play in the prevention of undernutrition.  Interventions implemented to prevent undernutrition need to focus on  programs and not products as essential components of their design. This article examines RUF and its current indications for use, the evidence for the use of RUF in the prevention of undernutrition, and advocates for humanitarian actors and donor agencies to strongly support sustainable and empowering interventions over the importation and distribution of prepackaged foreign made solutions.

Key words: Undernutrition, Prevention, RUF, Humanitarian, Sustainability