Photo Credit: Flickr: World Bank

The 2016 Global Nutrition Report (GNR), released today in Washington DC, provides an independent and annual review of the state of the world’s nutrition. The report, now in its third year, focuses on the progress made toward recent nutrition-related global commitments and identifies opportunities for action to end malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.

Malnutrition represents one of the biggest challenges facing the global community and directly affects one in three people in multiple forms, including: undernourishment, overweight, mineral deficiencies, and excess sugar, salt, fat, or cholesterol levels. At the same time, the recent establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals and the UN’s labelling of the coming decade as the ‘The Decade of Action on Nutrition’ shows that there is renewed awareness and commitment to tackling the varied challenges of malnutrition.

The 2016 GNR is split into nine chapters covering: the relationship between the Sustainable Development Goals and malnutrition; how to measure and assess progress; past progress against malnutrition; financing and malnutrition; and taking action against malnutrition. Each chapter includes a number of key findings and calls to actions.

The report highlights that malnutrition and diet are by far the biggest risk factors for the global burden of disease. Malnutrition thus provides a serious challenge for every country and all members of society. The report estimates that malnutrition causes significant economic losses - 11 percent of GDP per year in Africa and Asia. Similarly, in the United States, for every obese person in a household, that household’s health care bill increases by an equivalent of 8 percent of annual income. However, one of the key messages of the report is that this dire situation masks significant opportunities. The economic returns on investments preventing malnutrition are extremely high - $16 for every dollar $1 invested. The report illustrates numerous examples of countries, such as Brazil, Ghana, Peru and Vietnam, which have seized these opportunities and made rapid progress in tackling malnutrition.

Globally the world is off-track to meet most nutrition targets by 2030, but the rate of progress varies significantly by country and indicator. Most countries and regions are on course to achieve targets on child stunting (except for Africa), wasting, and overweight. Conversely, most countries are off course on targets on obesity, diabetes, and anemia in women. Indeed, obesity and overweight rates, currently at 1.9 billion people, are rising in almost every country and are now approaching the same scale of other forms of malnutrition.

At least 12 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are directly related to nutrition and contain nutrition-related indicators. This reflects nutrition’s central role in achieving sustainable development, as well as its interrelationship with the majority of development sectors. The report highlights that improvements in nutrition are necessary for achieving progress on global health, education, poverty, female empowerment, and inequality. Simultaneously, poverty and inequality, water, sanitation and hygiene, education, food systems, climate change, social protection, and agriculture all have an important impact on nutrition outcomes.

The report also conducts an analysis into the financing invested and committed to combating malnutrition (Chapter 7). An analysis from 24 low- and middle-income countries shows that governments spend just 2.1 percent of their budgets on combating undernutrition; the report also finds that donors’ allocations to nutrition-specific
interventions have flat-lined at $1 billion. These and other funding levels do not meet the levels required to achieve global malnutrition targets; the 10-year funding gap to meet the 2025 milestones for child stunting, severe acute malnutrition, breastfeeding, and anemia is estimated at US$70 billion. The report estimates that governments and donors will need to triple their commitments to nutrition to meet these critical milestones. Another key finding presented in the report is that donors and governments that prioritized nutrition in their policy documents spent more on nutrition interventions and achieved better outcomes. Similarly, businesses with stronger commitments to nutrition are more effective at delivering products, marketing, and labeling that support nutrition.

In this context, the report provides a number of key recommendations/calls to action intended to accelerate action against malnutrition and support the achievement of nutrition targets and the SDGs. The report calls on leaders from governments, donors, civil society organizations, and businesses to make the political choice to end all forms of malnutrition. Political commitment is crucial, and these commitments need to be supported by clear actions and investments in fighting malnutrition. Considering the high rates of return to investing in combating malnutrition, there is also a clear need for additional financing. The authors highlight that evidence from past success stories should be used to inform countries’ efforts, as these stories provide information regarding which public policies stand a good chance of working to reduce malnutrition.

Gaps in data remain a significant roadblock to achieving progress on nutrition throughout the world. This scarcity of data prevents the compilation of an accurate picture on malnutrition, making it more difficult for governments to know, act, and be held accountable for malnutrition. The report calls for a “data revolution” to collect the right types of data in order to spur further investments in nutrition. Generally, the report recommends that nutrition data be disaggregated to better understand where malnutrition exists in different forms.

Tackling malnutrition in all its forms will require multi-faceted actions across multiple sectors. For instance, governments in low- and middle-income-country will need to rapidly reduce undernutrition, while OECD countries will need to improve their domestic strategies to fight obesity. All countries should also integrate the prevention and control of diabetes and obesity into their nutrition plans.

Access the full report, report summary, and supplementary materials, including nutrition indicators, regional and country profiles, and data sets.

Read analysis from the GNR by region:
African South of the Sahara
Central America and the Caribbean

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