Addressing Malnutrition: The Importance of Political Economy Analysis of Power

Document Type : Review Article


1 Department of Global Health and Development, Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK

2 Health and Nutrition Cluster, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK

3 Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana

4 Division of Human Nutrition, Department of Global Health, Faculty of Health and Medicine Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

5 Department of Community Health Sciences, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan


The exercise of power is central to understanding global health and its policy and governance processes, including how food systems operate and shape population nutrition. However, the issue of power in food systems has been little explored empirically or theoretically to date. In this article, we review previous work on understanding power in addressing malnutrition as part of food systems that could be used in taking this issue further in future food systems research. In particular, we examine why acknowledging power is vital in addressing food systems for better nutritional outcomes, approaches to assessing power in empirical research, and ways of addressing issues of power as they relate to food systems.
We undertook a narrative review and synthesis. This involved identifying relevant articles from searches of PubMed and Scopus, and examining the reference lists of included studies. We considered for inclusion literature written in English and related to countries of all income levels. Data from included articles were summarized under several themes.
We highlight the importance of acknowledging power as a critical issue in food systems, present approaches that can be taken by food-systems researchers and practitioners in assessing power to understand the ways in which power works in food systems and wider society, and present material relating to addressing power and developing strategies to improve food systems for better nutrition, health and well-being.
A range of research approaches exist that can inform examination of power in food systems, and support the development of strategies to improve food systems for better nutrition, health and well-being. However, there is considerable scope for further work in this under-researched area. We hope that this review will support the necessary research to understand further power in food systems and drive the much-needed transformative change.


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