UN Decade of Action on Nutrition – from 2016 to 2025 – is to inject new energy into efforts to improve people’s nutrition worldwide.
Over the last ten years, the Copenhagen Consensus has identified some of the best ways we can combat malnutrition worldwide.
Since its first conference in 2004, the Copenhagen Consensus has promoted the most cost-effective solutions to address the world’s biggest challenges, and has twice highlighted malnutrition as the world’s top priority.
1. Micronutrient supplements
For less than $700 million every year, researchers said it would be possible to eliminate vitamin A deficiencies in pre-school children, wipe out iodine deficiency globally, and dramatically reduce maternal anaemia during pregnancy. Every year, 115,000 maternal deaths worldwide are associated with iron deficiency caused by malnutrition. Programs include distribution of multinutrient powders and lipid-based nutrient supplements.
The Copenhagen Consensus has also recommended deworming to help reduce malnutrition. Intestinal worms are the most common infection among people in the developing world. There are around 2.3 billion children and adults affected – nearly half of the population of the world’s poorest countries.
The worms can drain essential nutrients that a child eats, causing malnutrition. In adults, infection with worms damages health and makes it difficult to work. Among children, the effects can be particularly serious. In addition to making children weak and sick, infection and malnutrition can hinder learning and development.
3. Micronutrient fortification
Food fortification, which adds essential vitamins and minerals to foods, is an important strategy to fight malnutrition. The cost of food fortification to reduce widespread malnutrition can be as low as a few cents per individual per year for adding iodine to salt, and up to US$0.25 for more complex vitamins and minerals.
The Copenhagen Consensus in 2008 determined that providing micronutrients in the form of iodized salt, vitamin A capsules, and iron-fortified flour for 80 percent of the world’s malnourished would cost US$347 million a year. The group concluded that the investment would yield US$5 billion from avoided deaths, improved earnings, and reduced health care spending.
A diverse diet rich in micronutrients is out of reach for many of the world’s poor. Because foods that are high in micronutrients such as vegetables, fruits, dairy, and meats are expensive, people with little resources rely primarily on a few starchy staples that are rich in energy but not micronutrients. By increasing the micronutrient content of these energy-rich staples, micronutrient intakes among the poor can be increased.
5. Research and development to increase crop yields
The 2012 Copenhagen Consensus has recommended increasing annual global public investment in agricultural research and development to help reduce the number of hungry people by more than 200 million. Researchers said the effort would lessen the prevalence of hunger in 2050 by 63 percent compared to 2010, taking global population growth into account.
Greater agricultural production would help bring down food prices for the world’s poor. Although the world already produces enough food to feed everyone, researchers said it was important to be vigilant against the threats that climate change posed to agriculture.
Key Facts on Malnutrition (WHO)
- Malnutrition, in all its forms, includes undernutrition (wasting, stunting, underweight), inadequate vitamins or minerals, overweight, obesity, and resulting diet-related noncommunicable diseases.
- 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese, while 462 million are underweight.
- 52 million children under 5 years of age are wasted, 17 million are severely wasted and 155 million are stunted, while 41 million are overweight or obese.
- Around 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to undernutrition. These mostly occur in low- and middle-income countries. At the same time, in these same countries, rates of childhood overweight and obesity are rising.
- The developmental, economic, social, and medical impacts of the global burden of malnutrition are serious and lasting, for individuals and their families, for communities and for countries.
Global initiatives to end hunger
The EndingHunger campaign is an online communication campaign aimed at raising awareness of the hunger problem. It has many worked through viral videos depicting celebrities voicing their anger about the large number of hungry people in the world.
The main global policy to reduce hunger and poverty are the recently approved Sustainable Development Goals. In particular Goal 2: Zero Hunger sets globally agreed targets to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
While SDG 2 aims for an end to hunger in 2030, a number of organizations have formed initiatives with the more ambitious goal to achieve this outcome in only 10 years, by 2025:
- In 2013 Caritas International started a Caritas-wide initiative aimed at ending systemic hunger by 2025. The One human family, food for all campaign focuses on awareness raising, improving the impact of Caritas programs and advocating the implementation of the right to food.
- The partnership Compact2025, led by IFPRI with the involvement of UN organisations, NGOs and private foundations develops and disseminates evidence-based advice to politicians and other decision-makers aimed at ending hunger and undernutrition in the coming 10 years, by 2025. It bases its claim that hunger can be ended by 2025 on a report by Shenggen Fan and Paul Polman that analyzed the experiences from China, Vietnam, Brazil and Thailand and concludes that eliminating hunger and undernutrition was possible by 2025.
- In June 2015, the European Union and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have launched a partnership to combat undernutrition especially in children. The program will initiatilly be implemented in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Laos and Niger and will help these countries to improve information and analysis about nutrition so they can develop effective national nutrition policies.
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has created a partnership that will act through the African Union‘s CAADP framework aiming to end hunger in Africa by 2025. It includes different interventions including support for improved food production, a strengthening of social protection and integration of the right to food into national legislation.