Opening remarks at the high-level meeting on nutrition for growth; A letter from Dr Margaret Chan

News Hour:

Colleagues in the UN system, representatives of government and civil society, partners in development, ladies and gentlemen,

I thank the government of Brazil for organizing this event, in partnership with the governments of the United Kingdom and Japan.

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Brazil is a most appropriate venue for addressing the challenges of malnutrition. This country’s progress in reducing childhood undernutrition has been remarkable.

At the same time, Brazil faces an epidemic of obesity that some think may be even harder to control.

We are meeting at a critical political moment for global nutrition.

The 2014 Rome Declaration on Nutrition achieved consensus on the multiple challenges of malnutrition, a vision on the way forward, and commitments to take specific actions.

In 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development set a bold goal of ending hunger, including targets for ending all forms of malnutrition and ensuring sustainable food production.

July of this year saw the launch of the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition, a rallying cry that marshals support from all sectors of society.

The pressure to commit to specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound policies, the SMART policies, is on as never before.

The determinants of malnutrition are multiple and extremely complex. As we make commitments at the start of this decade, we need to take a frank look at the challenges ahead and their policy implications. Doing so underscores the need for a movement that engages the whole of society, from consumer groups to businesses.

First, the global nutrition situation is characterized by extremes, and we need policies capable of addressing these extremes.

The world has 800 million chronically hungry people, but it also has countries where more than 70% of the adult population is obese or overweight.

In terms of the nutritional requirements for healthy populations, countries in North America and Europe have nearly twice the food they need.

Second, the scale of the health problems created by these two extremes is enormous. Around 159 million young children are stunted and 50 million are wasted.

More than two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, while nearly an equal number are obese or overweight.

Third, we need to take a hard look at the food systems that are propelling these extremes.

The dominant international food system relies on the industrialized production and globalized marketing and distribution of food in a system largely operated by a small number of multinational corporations.

The system has a number of advantages. It is robust. No one is predicting that the world will not be able to feed its growing population.

It makes healthy fresh produce available to well-off consumers year round. But this system, with its global reach, has also made unhealthy highly processed foods the new world staple.

The food system at the other extreme relies on often rain-fed agriculture undertaken by smallholder farmers, who form the backbone of the economy in many developing countries.

This system remains a major source of food, but it is extremely fragile and vulnerable to multiple shocks. Fourth, in an era of sustainable development, we must address the problem of food losses and waste.

According to FAO, yearly tonnes of food wasted by consumers in rich countries are nearly as great as the net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.

This is edible food thrown away in homes and restaurants and rejected by supermarkets, often for cosmetic reasons. The tomatoes are not red enough. The cucumbers and carrots are curved.

Waste also occurs in the developing world, but with a different pattern.

In most developing countries, the majority of food losses occur during harvest, storage, and transportation because of bad weather, no air-tight silos, poor roads, and no refrigeration.

Research undertaken by the Rockefeller Foundation estimates that almost half of the food grown or produced in the developing world never makes it to market.

In the current dynamics in rich and poor countries alike, producing more food means wasting and losing more food.

This is the opposite of sustainable development. More food, alone, is not the solution.

Finally, SMART policies demand good data. WHO estimates that 49% of countries do not have enough nutrition data to determine whether they are on course for meeting goals and targets.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we move ahead, we must seize every opportunity opened by new evidence. The Scaling Up Nutrition initiative is doing this with its focus on nutrition during the first 1000 days of life.

This focus is also the nexus where policies for addressing the extremes of undernutrition and overnutrition converge.

Abundant evidence shows that undernutrition during gestation and early childhood can nearly double the risk of diet-related NCDs later in life.

The report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity seizes this opportunity as well, and we are taking its recommendations forward.

Rest assured of WHO support as we address all these challenges in an exciting new era for global nutrition.

-Dr Margaret Chan
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Md. Rafiuzzaman Sifat, a CSE graduate turned into journalist, works at News Hour as a staff reporter. He has many years of experience in featured writing in different Bangladeshi newspapers. He is an active blogger, story writer and social network activist. He published a book named 'Se Amar Gopon' inEkushe boi mela Dhaka 2016. Sifat got a BSc. from Ahsanullah University of Science & Technology, Bangladesh. He also works as an Engineer at Bangla Trac Communications Ltd. As an avid traveler and a gourmet food aficionado, he is active in publishing restaurant reviews and cutting-edge articles about culinary culture.
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