Good Nutrition Grows Up: Establishing a Key Driver for Sustainable Development

On Tuesday, experts gathered for the 2016 Global Nutrition Report launch in Washington, D.C. Food Tank, Bread for the World, 1,000 Days, Humanitas Global, International Food Policy Research Institute, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and USAID hosted the launch titled “From Promise to Impact: Ending Malnutrition by 2030.”

In conjunction with the global report launch, the U.S. Government released the United States Government Global Nutrition Coordination Plan 2016–2021. Its purpose is to strengthen the impact of the many diverse nutrition-driven investments across the U.S. Government -- using our development, humanitarian, and diplomatic assistance in the best methods possible to prevent malnutrition and boost the potential of all citizens of the world to live healthy and prosperous lives.

Malnutrition and poor diets constitute the number one driver of the global burden of disease. We already know that the annual gross domestic product losses from low weight, poor child growth, and micronutrient deficiencies average 11 percent in Asia and Africa—greater than the financial loss experienced during the 2008–2010 financial crisis.

With one in three people malnourished worldwide, it is clear that nutrition is a powerful driver of sustainable development – it has the power to either propel the agenda forward, or hold it back.  At least 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, a blueprint to end world poverty, contain indicators that are linked to nutrition. We cannot improve education, empower women, expand availability of clean water and clean energy or reduce inequality when the people that will fuel this change are not well nourished.

Collaborating for Results

Tackling hunger and undernutrition takes leadership and collective action, not just resources. Countries themselves must take ownership and accountability in the fight, and local civil society has a critical role in ensuring sustained commitment and investment at the country level. It is also vital for donor partners to better coordinate our work. 

The U.S. Government is proactively addressing the root causes of hunger and undernutrition around the world, integrating our approach across sectors, forging high-impact partnerships, and driving game-changing innovation from farms to markets to tables, particularly through the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future. Through USAID’s Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy (2014-2025), we are further coordinating and leveraging activities to improve nutrition across sectors, including health, agriculture and humanitarian assistance.

At USAID, we are prioritizing the prevention of malnutrition given the irreversible consequences of chronic undernutrition early in life. The multi-sectoral strategy establishes very clear targets for how America’s investment in nutrition will reduce stunting and recommends ways the United States can advance improved nutrition and build resilience for millions of people.

USAID supports country-led approaches across sectors to prevent malnutrition, focusing on the thousand days from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday. Why? Because we know this is the time period to support optimal nutrition for both mother and child. However, other work is necessary to promote access to good sanitation and hygiene, nutritious foods, family planning for optimal timing and spacing of pregnancy, and social safety nets to protect the most vulnerable.

Ensuring that a child receives adequate nutrition, particularly in the critical 1,000-day window from a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday, can yield dividends for a lifetime as a well-nourished child can perform better in school, more effectively fight off disease, and earn more as an adult. Conversely, malnutrition contributes significantly to maternal and child mortality, decreases resistance to infectious diseases, and prolongs episodes of illness, impedes growth and cognitive development. 

Women Lead Change

USAID reaches rural women as indispensable agents of change for their families and their communities across our development programs, especially in nutrition. Women are both disproportionately affected by malnutrition (60% of the world’s 800 million malnourished people are women) and critical actors in findings lasting solutions.

By integrating agriculture and nutrition, families can improve their agricultural production and diversify their diets to decrease rates of malnutrition among children. Take Touba, for example, which is Senegal’s second most densely populated city. Women and girls actively participate in addressing economic, social and health issues in this community, including promoting good nutrition. USAID is empowering and educating them to build home gardens and practice improved health and positive nutritional behaviors to ensure their children will grow up healthy and strong.

Their home gardens are now filled with healthy, inexpensive, and high-quality vegetables like chard, spinach, carrots, cabbages, eggplants, onions and other crops. And money earned from selling vegetables helps with school fees and other family needs.

USAID is also supporting mother-to-mother groups of 10 to 15 women who get together and share key information about maternal and child health and nutrition. And nutrition volunteers prepare community meals in villages where people sample new foods, practice preparing nutritious recipes, and learn about nutritional issues such as the importance of ensuring a diverse diet especially for pregnant and lactating women.

The bottom line is that nutrition challenges are multi-faceted and complex. Through women nutrition volunteers, and indeed in households and families, we are finding lasting solutions in nutrition and agriculture, and empowering strong, influential leaders in communities. The new U.S. Government Global Nutrition Coordination Plan 2016–2021 will help us to accelerate progress in support of country-led programs through food fortification, nutrition information systems, food safety, nutrition-related NCDs, HIV and nutrition, and with a focus on the 1,000 day window. 

About the Author Chris Thomas serves as the Senior Communications Advisor in the Bureau for Global Health at the United States Agency for International Development.

A dried goods vendor adjusts his wares as he waits for customers in a market on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal
Posted by Chris Thomas
June 21, 2016

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