The science of nutrition and healthy eating
The science of nutrition and healthy eating

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The science of nutrition and healthy eating

4.1 The Global Nutrition Report

The 2016 report states:


That was the challenge world leaders laid down to all of us at the end of 2015 when they adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is a formidable challenge. Every country is facing a serious public health challenge from malnutrition … One in three people is malnourished in one form or another … Malnutrition manifests itself in many forms: as children who do not grow and develop to their full potential, as people who are skin-and-bone or prone to infection, as people who carry too much weight or whose blood contains too much sugar, salt, or cholesterol. The consequences are literally devastating … An estimated 45% of deaths of children under age 5 are linked to malnutrition … Malnutrition and diet are now the largest risk factors responsible for the global burden of disease – by far …

A photo of the globe placed on top of a pile of seeds.
Figure 15 A globe placed on top of seeds

The current world population is about 7.5 billion. In 1955, it was approximately 2.76 billion and in 1990 approximately 5.3 billion. The world population clock forecasts that the population will rise to approximately 9.7 billion. You can find more details at the Worldometers website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

In June 2016, the 2016 Global Nutrition Report was published. It focuses on ending malnutrition and is called ‘From Promise to Impact: ending malnutrition by 2030 (Figure 16). This is the third annual global report, showing sustained momentum and priority in ending all forms of malnutrition.

A diagram showing the different scales of nutrition.
Figure 16 2016 Global Nutrition Report

Activity 6 Global nutrition

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes.

Watch the following video and make notes on what is being said. How do you feel about global nutrition?

Download this video clip.Video player: snhe_1_week6_video_activity6.mp4
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It is the only independent scorecard. It’s an annual scorecard to say how is the world and all the countries in the world, how are they doing in terms of meeting nutrition goals. But it’s not just about outcomes, it’s also about the things that we do to make those outcomes happen. It’s about how much money we spend, about what policies we put in place, what laws we pass, that kind of thing. So it’s trying to hold everyone accountable, is what you say you do what you actually do, and if not, why not?
There’s one big headline finding really and that’s that commitment really matters. Ending malnutrition is a choice. The number of countries that are on track to meet so-called undernutrition goals is improving every year. Every year we do it more and more countries are doing well. But there are some indicators and some goals that we’re just collectively just doing really badly on.
And then for some outcomes like obesity and overweight, we’re just going in exactly the wrong direction, everything is increasing. We found that about only half the countries out of the 193 actually have the data to be able to track progress against all of the goals we measure. We found some really big blind spots in the nutrition firmament. For example, even though diet and poor quality diet is the number one risk factor in the global burden of disease, there’s no global database on food consumption.
We don’t have very good data on how much countries spend on nutrition. We don’t have very good data on who’s making a commitment and who’s not making a commitment. Now why does that matter? It matters because if we don’t have the data, we can’t hold people accountable. We don’t measure progress if we don’t have the data. So it’s about accountability.
Nutrition matters for people because it’s the bedrock of their existences. If you try to build something on malnutrition, it’s like trying to build a house on quicksand. It affects everything, all the hardware that we have in our bodies. It affects our immune system. It affects the rates at which we grow. It affects our body shape. It affects our brain development.
It affects a whole range of things that allow us to fulfil our potential or not. Some estimates suggest that GDP per capita losses are 10% globally. And that’s the same amount that was lost at the height of the global financial crisis. So being malnourished, that the world’s burden of malnourishment is the same as-- it’s an annual global financial crisis.
It is surprisingly large, but it’s not surprising when you start thinking about what improved nutrition does. So improved nutrition means that you’re much less likely to be living in poverty, means you’re much more likely to be earning a higher wage, starting up your own business, supplying more labour in general in the labour market. When you add that all up at the national level, it can be anything from 6% to 15% additional GNP.
And the investments in nutrition generate a massive return, $16 for every dollar you invest in scaling up nutrition interventions. In addition to the macro effects of improved nutrition and avoiding malnutrition at the household level, there are massive effects. A recent study that we highlight in the report shows that for China, getting a diagnosis of diabetes adds a burden to the household equivalent to 16% of household income. That is just a massive burden.
Where there’s commitment and leadership, action follows. And it’s usually effective action. That’s very important, but it has to be the right action, and it has to be action at three different levels. Increase the coverage of programmes, if you’ve got this great programme but it’s only reaching 10% of the people who needed it, it’s not going to be terribly effective. The second level is make sure your development programmes, all of them, are working, at least in line with and supporting nutrition. And make it harder for people in power to do the wrong thing, or to do nothing. And make it easier for them to do the right thing.
What I’d like to see first of all, I’d like to see all actors come together, because you think about the things that create malnutrition, it’s very powerful forces that come together to create it, and so you need really powerful alliances to overcome it. We can’t do it without governments, but they can’t do it on their own. They need NGOs, they need businesses, they need development banks to come together. Every sector needs to contribute to malnutrition reduction. It’s not just the health sector, it’s not just the agriculture sector, or the food system, it’s all these different sectors
You can do two types of things I guess. One thing is you can act on your own nutrition. You can act for someone in your family. You can act for someone in your community. You can act for someone in your school. But you can also play a very important role in calling out people who have access to power, people who can make decisions.
Again, whether it’s in your school, whether it’s in your clinic, whether it’s in your government, ask your leaders-- those people over there, they’re the same as us, but their nutrition is much better than ours, what’s going on? I think there’s a real opportunity for you to bring the issues of malnutrition higher up the agenda, the national agenda, the development agenda, the international agenda.
End transcript
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The Global Nutrition Report states seven key findings

  1. Malnutrition creates a cascade of individual and societal challenges and opportunities.Malnutrition and poor diets constitute the number-one driver of the global burden of disease.
  2. The world is off-track to reach global targets — but there is hope. If we continue with business as usual, the world will not meet the global nutrition and Non-communicable Diseases (NCD) targets adopted by the World Health Assembly.
  3. Nutrition is central to the Sustainable Development Goals. At least 12 of the 17 sustainable Development Goals contain indicators that are highly relevant for nutrition, reflecting nutrition’s central role in sustainable development.
  4. Current commitments do not match the need. Given the scale of the malnutrition problem, current spending designed to overcome it is too low.
  5. Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic and Timed (SMART) commitments and targets matter.The report finds that donors and governments that prioritised nutrition in their policy documents spent more on nutrition.
  6. We must move beyond talk to action. The report highlights the need to dramatically strengthen the implementation of both policies and programmes.
  7. Today’s data and knowledge are not sufficient to maximise investments. The report supports the call for a data revolution for nutrition.

Figure 17 shows the scale of global malnutrition in 2016.

Figure 17 2016 Global Nutrition Report, page 2

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