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Malnutrition is alarmingly prevalent, affecting one in three people worldwide. In this Article, we argue that a key reason the global community has been unsuccessful in combating malnutrition is a lack of clarity outside the field of nutrition regarding the true meaning of “nutrition.” In particular, this has limited the effectiveness of international human rights law as a mechanism for addressing malnutrition.

In this interdisciplinary Article, which draws from both the legal and nutrition fields, we unpack the meaning of nutrition and demonstrate that a standalone right to adequate nutrition does indeed exist in international human rights law as a sum of other rights. This right to nutrition is, essentially, the sum of the human rights to food, health, education, water and sanitation, a healthy environment, information, political participation, and social security, along with rights ensuring adequate protection of and non-discrimination against specific groups, such as women, children, and indigenous peoples. Having located the right to nutrition within international human rights law, we argue that it is important to package adequate nutrition as a standalone human right, and we propose the following definition:

“The right to adequate nutrition is realized when all people have access to (i) a diverse, adequate, quality, and safe diet that meets their basic nutritional needs, (ii) the biological means, conditions, and resources needed to support a health status that effectively man-ages or is absent of illness and disease, and (iii) the underlying resources that influence the contextual factors that affect a person’s nutrition and health status, such as water, sanitation, hygiene, information, education, skills, income, physical and social capital, economic and natural resources, social protection, and political participation.”

We then provide a diagnostic tool for using a human rights-based approach to address malnutrition, and conclude with practical recommendations for improving nutrition policy and governance in light of nutrition’s status as a standalone human right.


Food and Drug Law | Human Rights Law | International Humanitarian Law | International Law | Law | Transnational Law