Selected Nutrition Definitions

These definitions and resources will be reviewed on a quarterly basis.

This definition list was last updated on 16 November 2015

Vocabulary

Definition

More information

1000 days

The period from conception to the completion of the child’s second year of life in which nutritional requirements are substantial and damage from malnutrition is largely irreversible.

Visit the 1000 Days organization website, which advocates for investment in nutrition for pregnant women and children under two.

Dietary diversity

The number of food groups consumed over a given period of time that can be used as an indicator of household food security, or diet quality.

FAO, USAID-funded FANTA project, and others are working on Household Dietary Diversty Score Indicators and Guideliens.

Double burden of malnutrition

The simultaneous occurrence of undernutrition and overweight/obesity in the same community, household, or individual.

 

Food Security

When all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritional food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

WHO definition and background on food security.

Food security is necessary but not sufficient for nutrition security.

Food system

A collaborative network that integrates sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management in order to enhance the environmental, economic and social health of a particular place.

See for example this World Bank Group document on working within the global food system.

Hunger

A feeling of discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain due to prolonged involuntary lack of food

The term “hunger” is sometimes used in place of malnutrition, particularly in media outlets. However, “hunger” itself is not a standard nutrition indicator.

Malnutrition

Poor nutritional status caused by nutritional deficiency or excess.

Malnutrition is an umbrella term. There are many forms of malnutrition including but not limited to stunting, wasting, low birth weight, overweight, etc.

This technical resource from FANTA (USAID-funded project) defines clinical criteria for types of malnutrition.

Micronutrient deficiency

A lack of essential vitamins and minerals required in small amounts by the body for proper growth and development, including vitamin A, B, C, D, calcium, folate, etc.

Micronutrient deficiencies are sometimes referred to as “hidden hunger”. An individual can be overweight/obese and still suffer from micronutrient deficieny.

Nutrition security

When all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritional food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Nutrition security is more rigorous than food security.

See for example Action Contre la Faim's nutrition security policy.

Nutrition-Specific

Interventions that have an immediate and direct impact on maternal, fetal and child nutrition and development.

See this HEART consortium topic note on nutrition. Click on "Direct Interventions - Nutrition Specific Development" for a concise overview.

See the WHO eLENA website for nutrition-specific intervention guides.

Stunting

Low height for age, when compared to a global sex-specific standard, which is the result of chronic undernutrition.

A 1998 report from UNICEF includes an old photo showing two girls of equal age, one who is stunted.

An infographic from 1000 days explains stunting.

Undernourishment

A person whose usual food consumption, expressed in terms of dietary energy (kcal), is below the energy requirement norm.

Although undernutrition and undernourishment are frequently used interchangeably, they are in fact different indicators.

FAO tracks undernourishment in its annual State of Food Insecurity report.

Undernutrition

Poor nutritional status due to nutritional deficiencies, including stunting, underweight and wasting.

Undernutrition is an umbrella term. There are many forms of undernutrition including but not limited to stunting, wasting, low birth weight, etc.

Underweight

Low weight for age when compared to a global sex-specific standard. 

 

Wasting

Low weight for height when compared to a global sex-specific standard. 

An infographic from 1,000 Days explains wasting.