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Europe: FAO urges governments to take concrete action on malnutrition

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The 10 years running until 2025 will be a critical time for action to build healthy and sustainable food systems and end malnutrition in all its forms, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today at an event at the United Nations General Assembly celebrating the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition.

“The purpose of the Decade of Action on Nutrition is to continue to draw the world`s attention to the importance of combatting malnutrition,” he said.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Graziano da Silva reminded governments of their commitments made at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in 2014 and called on them to transform those commitments into action through national policies and programs.

Better governance on nutrition globally, he stressed, “starts at country level.”

Today, one in three people worldwide – nearly 2.5 billion people – suffer from at least one form of malnutrition, ranging from hunger to obesity to a lack of critical nutrients.

“FAO has maintained a great synergy with WHO in leading the efforts in the fight against all forms of malnutrition,” said Graziano da Silva.

“WHO is the lead in nutrition and FAO is here to complement that work. FAO has developed a work plan focused on the promotion of healthy food and healthy diets through nutritional education and the transformation of food systems.”

Why action is critical

Today, some 159 million children under the age of five are stunted – meaning they have a low height for their age.

Another 50 million children in that age bracket are wasted – in other words, they have low weight compared to their height.

Meanwhile, some 1.9 billion people are overweight, of whom 600 million are obese.

There is also a gender dimension to this.

Malnutrition continues to disproportionately affect women and girls, who often forgo food for male family members or lack the income to secure adequate nutrition for themselves.

Estimates suggest that maternal and child undernutrition alone cost up to 11% of GDP, as malnutrition in early life often results in ill health in adulthood.

Well-nourished children, inversely, are 33% more likely to escape poverty as adults.

This means that investing in nutrition has significant potential to break endemic poverty cycles and boost economic development by allowing people to live healthy, productive lives.

Work plan

As with ICN2, stewardship of the Decade of Action lies with FAO and WHO, who together will focus their efforts on two main objectives.

One is assisting governments in building national policies and programs that advance nutrition.

The other is to align the efforts of existing global initiatives and social movements towards common goals.

To support concrete action on nutrition programs, both agencies will further organize special meetings to strengthen countries’ technical capacities to tackle new nutrition challenges.

One example of this is a symposium on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Diets and Improved Nutrition to be held in Rome from December 1 to 2, 2016.

Both agencies also agreed to put in place a solid system for reporting and monitor achievements.