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The Minimum Cost of a Healthy Diet

Tackling chronic malnutrition effectively, and in particular improving the diet of children in the critical period up to the age of two years, remains a major challenge to the international community. Recent years have seen nutrition policy-makers focus heavily on addressing non-food related causes of malnutrition in developing countries (health status and caring practices), rather than tackling food insecurity. Furthermore, progress made in measuring food insecurity has largely involved measuring access to food energy, rather than aspects of dietary quality.

Whilst there has also been progress in the measurement of children's diets, few tools have been available to date to examine whether communities are able to secure enough resources to feed their children properly with the quality of diet necessary to ensure healthy growth and development. In the context of growing momentum behind the development of social protection schemes, and in particular those centred around regular cash transfers in low-income countries, an understanding of the minimum cost of a healthy diet could help policy-makers determine how to achieve the best nutritional outcomes for children and families with these programmes.

In 2006, Save the Children initiated a pilot research programme to quantify the extent to which households could afford to feed their children under the age of 2, and a whole family of 5 people, with a diet meeting minimum requirements of macro and micronutrients. This involved expanding and refining some existing linear programming software (originally developed by WHO) for the analysis, and initiating data collection in selected communities in four countries - Bangladesh, Myanmar, Ethiopia and Tanzania - to trial the methodology and develop case study examples. This report presents the findings relating to the cost and affordability of the cheapest possible diet in the four study locations.

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The Minimum Cost of a Healthy Diet