The disparities of nutrition across the world vary hugely. Poor countries have the highest percentage of underweight citizens, while the richest countries have the highest numbers of overweight or obese people. The double burden of nutrition is prevalent across this spectrum, as both underweight and overweight people coexist in many areas of the world.
Details from the 2020 report highlight how personal choices are not responsible for malnutrition. Many people cannot access or afford a healthy diet or quality nutrition. One of the key findings from the report is that nutrition should be more centrally located in health systems, taking a preventative and curative position.
Recognition of Covid-19 is shown as undernourished people with a weakened immune system could be at greater risk of severe illness, while obesity has been strongly linked to negative outcomes, including hospitalisation and death. Notably, the report considers how Covid-19 has tested our food systems on many levels.
The report calls for action in three main areas:
To ensure that healthy and sustainably produced food is the most accessible, affordable and desirable choice for all, sectors must work together to mainstream nutrition into all elements of the food system.
- Implement strong regulatory and policy frameworks to support healthier diets for all at country and community level and across sectors, from production to consumption.
- Optimise agricultural subsidies and increase public investment for producing a broader range of more diverse and healthier foods.
- Provide support for public transport schemes and shorter supply chains for fresh-food delivery products, particularly to the most nutritionally disadvantaged or harder-to-reach groups.
- Implement, monitor and evaluate evidence-based food policies to support healthy, sustainable and equitable diets, such as fiscal, reformulation, school- and worksite-based, labelling and marketing policies.
- Hold the food industry accountable for producing and marketing healthier and more sustainable food products through strengthened mechanisms.
- Strengthen and increase research spending to address major nutrition questions, identify cost- effective solutions and stimulate innovation.
To save lives and cut healthcare costs, sectors must work in collaboration to mainstream nutrition as a basic health service through leveraging existing infrastructure and introducing new technologies.
- Roll out nutrition services within health services by developing costed nutrition care plans, that should be scaled up and sustained to cover all forms of malnutrition, including overweight, obesity and other diet-related NCDs.
- Invest in human resources to increase the number of qualified nutrition professionals and level- out access to quality nutrition care.
- Use a variety of health professionals and workers to alleviate inequities in access, and enhance their performance through educational and development opportunities.
- Include nutrition-related health products like therapeutic foods and innovative technological solutions like digital nutrition counselling, where appropriate – especially when working with more remote and harder-to-reach communities.
- Optimise health records and checks for nutrition care, to deliver preventive and curative nutrition services and identify those in greatest need.
- Commit to routine and systematic collection of equity-sensitive nutrition data at the community level, disaggregated by key population characteristics to strengthen the evidence base and inform targeted priority-setting.
Nutrition coordination, financing and accountability
Sectors must work in partnership to develop complementary funding and accountability mechanisms focused on directing resources and programmes to the communities and people most affected by malnutrition.
- Increase domestic financing to respond to the needs of communities most affected by malnutrition – including undernutrition, as well as overweight, obesity and other diet-related NCDs.
- Invest in data management systems to strengthen data on financial flows, enabling alignment with national nutrition priorities.
- Increase international nutrition financing and coordination, targeting populations most in need – especially in fragile and conflict-affected countries and in those with limited possibility for domestic resource mobilisation.
- Establish an international system of governance and accountability to address power imbalances in the food and health system and hold to account those responsible for creating inequities in food and health systems.
- Establish support spaces for dialogue on coordinated action to achieve nutrition equity and sensitise the policy space through lobbying for community involvement – from design to evaluation.
- Undertake situational assessments to identify bottlenecks in food, health, education and social protection, to remove barriers to improving nutrition outcomes.