By Savanna Henderson, Humanitas Global and Nabeeha Kazi, President and CEO, Humanitas Global
The 2016 Global Nutrition Report (GNR) launches this week in seven cities around the globe – Beijing, Johannesburg, Nairobi, New Delhi, New York, Stockholm and Washington D.C. – and comes on the heels of renewed international attention on nutrition.
The 2016 GNR begins with the reminder of the formidable challenge assigned to each and every one of us: “End all forms of malnutrition by 2030.” This challenge sets the tone for the rest of the Report, which shows that 44 percent of countries with data available (57 out of 129 countries) now experience very serious levels of both undernutrition and adult overweight & obesity. In addition it shows that despite good progress in some countries, the world is largely off track to reduce and reverse this trend Roughly two billion people suffer from micronutrient malnutrition while two billion adults are overweight or obese. Worldwide, 50 million children under five are wasted while 41 million are overweight.
“We’re far from done addressing undernutrition,” said Professor Corinna Hawkes, Co-Chair of the GNR’s Independent Expert Group and Director of the Centre for Food Policy, City University London, “But governments and donors now also have to cope with the threat that nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases and obesity pose to improving global health and development. One in 12 people globally have diabetes now, and nearly 2 billion people are obese or overweight. We must stem the tide.”
Despite these challenges, the Report shows that progress has been made, and is possible. The number of stunted children under 5 is declining in every region except Africa and Oceania. Individually, many countries have shown remarkable progress: in Ghana for example, stunting rates have almost halved – from 36 to 19 percent– in just 11 years. Many countries are also close to being on track to meet global targets; Peru and Malawi, for example, are close to being on track to meeting global targets on breastfeeding and anemia reduction.
“The key ingredient to all of these success stories is political commitment,” said Lawrence Haddad, Co-Chair of the GNR’s Independent Expert Group and Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. “Where leaders in government, civil society, academia and business are committed – and willing to be held accountable – anything is possible. Despite the challenges, malnutrition is not inevitable—ultimately it is a political choice: one which we need leaders across the world to make.”
The Report highlights the staggering economic costs of malnutrition, as well as the critical gaps in investments and commitments to date, including:
- Societal costs: 11 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is lost every year in Africa and Asia due to malnutrition. Every year, global GDP losses from malnutrition are greater than what was lost each year during the 2008-2010 financial crisis.
- Family costs: In the United States, when one person in a household is obese, the household spends on average an additional 8 percent of its annual income in healthcare costs. In China, a diagnosis of diabetes results in an annual 16.3 percent loss of income for those with the disease.
- Financing gaps: Brand new analysis in the Report shows that nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases received only USD 50 million of donor funding in 2014, despite the fact that all noncommunicable diseases now cause nearly 50 percent of death and disability in low- and middle-income countries. Of 24 low- and middle-income government budgets analyzed in the Report, just an average 2 percent of spending is allocated toward reducing undernutrition, while donor allocations to nutrition programs are stagnating at USD 1 billion.
Other Key findings include:
- Malnutrition creates a cascade of individual and societal challenges – and opportunities. Malnutrition hampers opportunities to attain a quality education and decent employment opportunities, leads to poor health outcomes, a cycle of poverty, and inequality. Proper nutrition can reverse all of this, creating opportunities for individuals, families, society, and the world.
- Nutrition is central to the Sustainable Development Goals. Of the 17 SDGs, 12 have nutrition relevant indicators, demonstrating the keystone role nutrition has in sustainable development. It also reflects the need to refocus on the underlying determinants of nutrition such as health care, education, and gender equity.
- Current commitments do not match the need. At the current rate, spending allocated to overcome malnutrition isn’t enough. While low- and middle-income governments are spending upwards of 30 percent of budgets on agriculture, education, health, and social protection, there aren’t enough nutrition-specific interventions to combat the issue.
- SMART commitments and targets matter. Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound commitments are key to achieving the challenge set before us. Unfortunately, there are a lack of SMART commitments which can cause paralysis in achieving targets for nutrition.
- We must move beyond talk to action. Policies and programs must be strengthened to support nutrition targets and goals. Despite WHO guidance on promoting healthy diets, only one third of countries have made progress in tackling the salt reduction, trans- and saturated-fat reduction recommendations, and implementation of WHO’s Recommendations on Marketing to Children. Direct and sustainable action must accompany such recommendations.
- Today’s data and knowledge are not sufficient to maximize investments. Finally, there is a need for a nutrition specific data revolution. While we have some data, pervasive global nutrition data eludes us. If we don’t know where we stand against malnutrition, we cannot overcome the challenges and reach our 2030 goal.
The GNR is an annual assessment of countries’ progress in meeting global nutrition targets established by the World Health Assembly and commitments made at the Nutrition for Growth Summit in 2013. The GNR is a vital a resource in the fight against malnutrition, and the only independent and comprehensive annual review of the state of the world’s nutrition.