Malnutrition crisis demands urgent attention if the world is to meet sustainable development goals, Global Nutrition Report says

Washington, D.C. (Nov. 7, 2017)—Malnutrition, a condition caused by lack of food or insufficient amounts of the nutrients the body needs, is a reality for hundreds of millions of people globally and a growing threat to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, according to the 2017 Global Nutrition Report (GNR). More than 155 million children worldwide are stunted, the report said, an indicator of long-term effects of insufficient nutrition on a child’s growth, with growing numbers in Africa. Fifty-two million worldwide are wasted—an indicator of acute undernutrition measured by weight too low for their height.

“It is unacceptable that undernutrition continues to threaten the survival and potential of millions of kids around the world,” said ACTION Secretariat Director Hannah Bowen. “The world has both an obligation and the resources to stop this crisis—to provide every child the healthy start they need to grow into productive adulthood.”

The GNR, released in Milan, November 4, shows the persistence of malnutrition as a reinforcing factor for global inequality, since well-nourished children are 33 percent more likely to escape poverty as adults. In the 140 countries studied, all face significant burdens of three forms of malnutrition: 1) childhood stunting, 2) anemia in women of reproductive age, and 3) obesity among adult women. The report found that 29 countries face high burdens in all three forms of malnutrition.

All three conditions have serious implications for an equal chance at a healthy life. Stunted children (too short for their age due to lack of nutrients) suffer impaired brain development along with its negative consequences such as slow learning and underperformance in school; anemia during pregnancy can affect both mother and child; and numerous studies have shown that obesity correlates with higher incidences of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.   

While undernutrition persists in many countries, Peru, Vietnam, Brazil, Nepal, Senegal, and Ethiopia are succeeding in reducing the numbers of stunted children. Strong budgetary allocations to nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive programming by national governments is critical to success—though some countries commit nothing and face persistently high rates of stunting—and there are stand-outs such as El Salvador, which allocated 27 percent of general government expenditure.

A positive in the 2017 GNR report is the finding that of the US$19.9 billion committed by donors at the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit in 2013, 90 percent ($17.9 billion) has already been disbursed. Even more momentum could be built for robust global funding, but only half of the N4G stakeholders have reported on progress against their commitments in 2017.

Despite the lack of transparency on scaling up funding, recent political statements indicate that global leaders know they must take action against the crisis of malnutrition. At the G7 Health Minister’s meeting in Milan, November 5-6, ministers acknowledged in their post summit communique that “food systems have a huge impact on human health. Therefore, in the context of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, we advocate for food systems that support healthy and sustainable diets, ensuring food security, safety and nutrition for everyone, including vulnerable and marginalized populations.”

“We reaffirm our collective commitment to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, and call for further commitments from others on this important issue,” the communique said.

ACTION, in its 2017–2021 strategic framework, commits to advocating for “larger investments in high-impact nutrition-specific inventions that reduce stunting, wasting, and micronutrient deficiencies” and to work for greater spending in nutrition sensitive areas like early childhood development.

“We will do all that we can to work with governments and civil society so that 2030 sees the end of malnutrition in all its forms, through ambitious and accountable actions for nutrition,” said Bowen.

ACTION is a partnership of 12 locally rooted organizations around the world that advocate together to build political will and increase investments for global health. Our partners: Æquitas (India), CITAMplus (Zambia), Global Health Advocates France, Global Health Advocates India, KANCO (Kenya), Princess of Africa Foundation (South Africa), RESULTS International Australia, RESULTS Canada, RESULTS Educational Fund (U.S.), RESULTS Japan, RESULTS UK, and WACI Health (Kenya and South Africa).