Ethical dilemmas of improving undernutrition: a moral obligation to coordinate and collaborate

Abstract Number Theme Presentation Type Cover Approved
0293 Leadership and capacity development Poster Not Approved


Abstract Content


The nutrition field is challenged with many intractable, ethical issues that impede progress.


A review of the political economy literature was performed to assess ethical considerations of nutrition across two areas: (1) Duties and accountability; and (2) discriminatory perceptions of vulnerable groups.


(1) Because nutrition requires a multi-sectoral response, securing the rights of individuals is central to the mandates of stakeholders. Often, allocation decisions are framed as a stark choice between prevention and treatment approaches. These decisions are debated in nutrition, leaving the community split into factions. This divide arguably undermines the development of integrated efforts due to the reinforced divergence in action, rather than providing a more comprehensive view. In the absence of consensus among experts, stakeholders may lack the epistemic basis to fulfill their moral obligations.(2) Discriminatory perceptions can lead to undervaluation of vulnerable groups’ needs. There are considerations about the moral relevance of life-span and intergenerational effects, which perpetuate empirical disputes about the irreversibility of early-life undernutrition. If nutritional deficiencies are irreversible after a certain window, the opportunity to change the course has closed for an entire generation. This debate has significant consequences for policymaking, and getting the debate wrong can take decades to steer action in another direction. Carefully weighing relevant ethical considerations is indispensable before a course of action is chosen since the consequences of certain policies are pervasive and irreversible.


This abstract presents some ethical issues facing the nutrition community with the objective to spur dialogue, action and accountability.

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