Cover Image
close this bookFood, Nutrition and Agriculture - 16 - Nutrition Education for the Public (FAO - FPND - FAO, 1996)
close this folderGet the best from your food
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentProfitons au mieux de notre nourriture
View the documentSaque el máximo provecho de los alimentos que come


An FAO initiative in nutrition education

Globally, most nutritional problems arise from people’s lack of access to enough food to meet their fundamental nutritional needs on a daily basis; this holds true for about 800 million people in developing countries, representing 20 percent of their combined populations, As nutritional well-being is recognized as a precondition for the development of societies (FAO/WHO, 1992), it is necessary to allocate a major share of development resources to assisting households to secure their economic and physical access to enough good-quality and safe food to meet their nutritional needs.

However, access to sufficient food at household level does hot guarantee adequate dietary intakes for all household members. Households must also have enough knowledge and information about each member’s nutritional needs and how these needs can best be met with the resources available. Sufficient time and appropriate knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding the use and preparation of food are essential for achieving good nutrition among all household members. Knowledge about nutritional needs and food uses is particularly important among poor and food-insecure households; it can literally make the difference between life and death, illness and health. Given the rise in diet-related, non-communicable diseases in many countries, good food and nutrition knowledge is important for more affluent households as well.

The FAO nutrition education package Get the best from your food Dossier d’cation en nutrition de la FAO Profitons au mieux de notre nourriture El paquete sobre educaciutricional de la FAO Saque el mmo provecho de los alimentos que come

As improving people’s knowledge of basic food and nutrition issues is essential in many different settings and situations, effective nutrition education and communication programmes are needed, In addition to imparting the necessary knowledge on food and nutrition in general, nutrition education and communication programmes can address a wide range of situations and problems, For example, they can:

· encourage (or even reintroduce) beneficial dietary habits and practices (for example, breast-feeding or increasing intake of certain foods);

· provide information about the appropriate use of new, locally unfamiliar foods (for instance, unknown foods distributed in relief interventions; new foods consumed as lifestyles change rapidly because of urbanization; or new foods made available as societies change from subsistence to market economies or open to the world market);

· raise awareness of the particular nutritional needs of certain groups of people (for example, infants, school-age children, the elderly and pregnant or lactating women) and how those needs can best be met from available foods;

· highlight the risks of particular food habits that are detrimental to good nutrition (for instance, food taboos during pregnancy, lactation or illness);

· communicate the appropriate means and behaviour for preventing food-borne illnesses;

· inform the public about the availability of nutrition information sources and teach them how to use them (for example, food labels);

· form part of essential life skills (for example, as an element of primary and secondary school curricula and as a part of lifelong learning).

The aims of nutrition education and communication are not limited to solving nutrition problems resulting from the consumption of an insufficient amount and variety of safe food, Equally important are nutrition education activities that address excessive or unbalanced intake of food in combination with inappropriate lifestyle (for example, physical inactivity or immoderate consumption of alcoholic beverages). In both instances, improvements in nutritional well-being certainly depend on access to a variety of safe and affordable foods. Beyond this, however, people need to understand what constitutes an appropriate diet and lifestyle and how they can best meet their nutritional needs from available resources, Thus nutrition education and communication, using suitable information and messages, are essential to protect and promote the nutritional well-being of the public.


The FAO Food and Nutrition Division, recognizing the central role of knowledge in helping the individual to practise good dietary habits, has held nutrition education as a key concern since the Organization’s inception 50 years ago, The 1950 report of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Nutrition was the first to emphasize nutrition education, The same committee in 1958 considered education “a necessary part of practical programmes to improve human nutrition” (FAO, 1958). Recently, FAO’s work in the nutrition education field was further endorsed by the World Declaration on Nutrition and the Plan of Action for Nutrition adopted by all participants of the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) in Rome in December 1992, where a commitment was made “to promote appropriate diets and lifestyles” (FAO/WHO, 1992). FAO works to fulfil this commitment by, among other activities, providing technical guidance for the development of comprehensive nutrition education programmes and the development and application of innovative and successful nutrition education methods and strategies (FAO, 1996).

In the spirit of this commitment FAO has now launched a new public information initiative for consumers entitled Get the best from your food. The package of educational materials includes a leaflet providing easy to understand guidance on nutrition and diets for the general public; a more comprehensive technical guide. Food and nutrition notes, for those involved in or responsible for executing nutrition education programmes and others who may need additional information; and a poster highlighting the basic messages of the campaign. The educational materials emphasize basic nutrition concepts that should be communicated to the public, and they provide easily understood messages for the reader. All the materials can be refined and incorporated into locally appropriate education and information campaigns and activities, The package has deliberately been prepared from a global perspective, and it should be adapted for regional, national or local use.


The FAO package for dietary guidance is based on four principles. First is the recognition that the human body is a very adaptable organism and that a wide variety of dietary patterns and food intakes can lead to good health and nutritional well-being, From even a casual overview of global dietary patterns, the physiological appropriateness of a wide range of different food consumption patterns is apparent.

The second principle is the recognition that, from a nutritional perspective, a given food should not be required or forbidden, In fact, there are no good or bad foods per se, only good and bad diets which may consist of various amounts of different types of foods.

The third principle is that diets, in themselves, can only be judged good or bad in relation to a number of other variables, ranging from an individual’s physiological status to physical activity levels and lifestyle choices, Helping consumers understand the variables and how to adapt them beneficially is a major objective of nutrition education.

This leads to the fourth principle: dietary intake is primarily a matter of choice, except in extreme (for example, emergency) or special (for instance, hospital) situations, Dietary guidance can help people make good food choices through positive, non-coercive messages.


The FAO Get the best from your food initiative promotes four messages that can be used to develop educational programmes for public information, for instance, for youth groups, women’s cooperatives, schools and other training settings, The concepts and messages are positive, simple and direct, They promote healthful and realistic consumption patterns among all age groups and encourage practical approaches to learning about foods and nutrition. The core messages are as follows.

Enjoy a variety of food

This message embodies two concepts. The first is that food, eating and dietary guidance need to be seen in a positive light. This concept is especially important given the negative messages often associated with dietary guidance, particularly in more affluent societies. Eating is, of course, essential for obtaining the energy and nutrients the body needs for life, But food and eating have value and significance well beyond the supplying of nutrients. Eating is among the most natural and pleasurable activities known, and within a society food and especially the sharing and securing of food have considerable social functions and significance, Enjoying preferred foods provides satisfaction to the individual. Eating together is an important part of daily life (within a family, among friends or in a working environment), and food habits play a crucial part in social events, celebrations and festivals.

The second concept is that dietary adequacy is best achieved with a diet consisting of many different types of food. This message stresses that the consumption of a wide variety of foods is necessary and that all types of food can be enjoyed as part of a wholesome diet; it also recognizes the importance of accommodating people’s individual food tastes and eating habits, as well as the vast differences in amount and types of food locally available, Recognizing the benefits of varied diets with a mix of foods from different food groups is important, especially given the still incomplete understanding of nutritional requirements, nutrient and non-nutrient interactions and diet-health relationships.

Eat to meet your needs

This message emphasizes the need to consider the change in nutritional needs during the life cycle, It invites the audience to learn how those needs can best be met from locally available foods. Encouraging family members to enjoy and choose a wide variety of foods can help them meet their nutritional needs. Choosing wisely is especially important when incomes are low and food supplies are insecure. Information in this section of the FAO package deals with how to meet energy and nutrient requirements during high-risk periods such as pregnancy, lactation, infancy, illness or old age and in difficult situations such as times of low food availability, This message also permits problems associated with overconsumption and unbalanced dietary intakes to be addressed.

Protect the quality and safety of your food

This concept is often overlooked by those providing dietary guidance, yet it is of great importance in both developed and developing countries. In many developing countries the poor state of water and food sanitation contributes to the emergence and persistence of malnutrition, and in all countries the consumption of poor-quality, contaminated foods is a major health risk. Vigorous efforts to protect the quality and safety of food supplies need to be made within households, schools and other institutions and at village-level and commercial processing and storage facilities, Through such actions the food spoilage that wastes limited resources can be reduced and health risks for consumers can be avoided.

Keep active and stay fit

Nutritional well-being is not just a matter of eating properly. The body needs exercise to function well and stay healthy. Many of the diet-related chronic diseases are closely linked to activity patterns, and efforts to improve nutritional well-being need to consider activity as well as diet.


Encouraging substantial changes in dietary practices can be difficult and usually requires more than simply providing, information to consumers, Appropriate social and economic policies and strategies will facilitate people’s interest and willingness to make more healthful dietary and lifestyle choices, The use of simple, easily understood messages and materials can facilitate behavioural change towards improved dietary practices, and this is where FAO’s new nutrition education material comes into play.

FAO’s intention in launching this initiative is to promote the development of rational and workable approaches to providing realistic dietary guidance for the general public and selected target audiences, In this process of developing and providing dietary guidance it will be of the utmost importance not only to refer to food as sources of nutrients but also to recognize and appreciate the multiple roles of foods and eating behaviours, as described above. Particularly in this sense, FAO believes that the Get the best from your food nutrition education package contributes to a better understanding of food and nutrition issues and facilitates the development of appropriate dietary guidance.

FAO is most interested in cooperating with governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and other United Nations and bilateral development assistance agencies in the wider use of its nutrition education package, It can provide the necessary technical advice for adapting the material to local and/or regional needs and, upon request, can assist in finding the necessary funds, FAO can help in initiating and promoting adaptations and could contribute to short seminars and workshops on this subject.

Limited copies of the Get the best from your food nutrition education package are available in English, French and Spanish and can be ordered from FAO. An Arabic version is available from the FAO Regional Office for the Near East in Cairo, Egypt.

For further information please contact:

The Director
Food and Nutrition Division
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00100 Rome, Italy
Fax: (396) 5225 4593


FAO. 1958, Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Nutrition.
Fifth report. Rome.

FAO. 1996. Nutrition education for the public. Report of an FAO Expert Consultation, Rome, 18-22 September 1995, FAO Food and Nutrition Paper No. 59. Rome.

FAO/WHO. 1992. International Conference on Nutrition. Final report of the conference, Rome.