Nutrition matters

Almost 821 million people are chronically undernourished, 149 million children under the age of five years are affected by stunting and over 49.5 million by wasting. In contrast, over 40 million children under five are overweight and adult obesity is worsening - now around 678 million are obese(more than 1 in 8 adults in the world),a figure that continues to grow and increases the risk of noncommunicable diseases. A large proportion of the world population is also affected by micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiencies (“hidden hunger”). One in three women of reproductive age globally is affected by anaemia, with significant health and development consequences for both women and their children. Many countries face a serious burden of either two or three forms of malnutrition and trends predict that the 1 in 3 people currently malnourished will grow to 1 in 2 people soon.

The world has made progress in reducing malnutrition, specifically undernutrition. However, these gains have been modest and uneven across regions, populations groups and gender. Several forms of malnutrition can be found in the same country, the same community, the same household and even the same person—a testament to the complexity of the problem. Nor is the nutrition challenge an isolated one; rather, it is sensitive to conflict, inequity, power imbalances, disease outbreaks and environmental degradation.

In recent years, we have witnessed an unprecedented rise in high level political commitment and financing for nutrition. This can be attributed in part to the greater understanding of the central role that nutrition plays in human development—and indeed sustainable development more broadly.

The global nutrition targets as agreed by the World Health Assembly in 2012, the global Noncommunicable Diseases targets and the recommendations of the Second International Conference on Nutrition in 2014, provide a clear direction for action to fight all forms of malnutrition. These have been woven into the fabric of the Sustainable Development Goals, where they should be seen as crosscutting and essential to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. The UN Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025) proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on April 2016 amplifies that message by calling for accelerated, coordinated, global action on nutrition.

Good nutrition is the foundation of human health and wellbeing and encompasses many rights, especially the right to adequate food and to the highest attainable standard of health. It includes children's rights to food, health and care as well as survival and development. Moreover, it comprises women’s right to appropriate services, along with adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation. Gender equality and realization of women’s rights are central to achieve nutrition goals.

Transforming global commitments at country level is a worthy investment. Addressing malnutrition in all its forms reduces health care costs, improves productivity and economic growth, and promotes education, intellectual capacity and social development for present and future generations. According to the Global Nutrition Report, every US $1 spent on nutrition actions such as exclusive breast-feeding yield on average US $16 in return. Investment can be catalyzed by foreign assistance but, ultimately, nutrition needs to be a national priority supported by domestic policies, programmes and finances to ensure long-term, sovereign growth.

The world has a complete and comprehensive set of nutrition targets. It has a set of recommendations and it has a sustainability agenda that provides the social, economic and environmental context in which the nutrition targets should be met. There is high level political attention for nutrition and many institutes, organizations and individuals have been mobilized for nutrition in several important and influential initiatives, programmes and networks.

The UNSCN will do its part to support the UN “delivering as one” by strengthening policy coherence, fostering joint global actions, investigating emerging issues, enhancing dialogue and knowledge sharing, and promoting accountability and advocacy on nutrition.