“Nutrition for Growth”: A New Chapter for Nutrition Policy

Upcoming event creates key opportunity to grow and enhance world's nutrition programs
Mauritanian children
The future of children, like the ones seen here, is on the line. Photo: ACF-Mauritania.

On June 8th governments of developing and donor countries, foundations, private sector partners and nutrition organizations will come together in the UK to recommit to the most important investment we can make in the future: nutrition.

Nutrition programs – especially those that target women and children during the critical 1,000 day window from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday – are cost‐effective and offer some of the best returns of any investment in human development. By contrast, undernutrition can cost individuals up to 10 percent of their lifetime earnings and countries up to 11 percent of their annual GDP in lost productivity.

In preparation for the June 8th Nutrition for Growth event, we at Action Against Hunger worked with other nutrition organizations to determine what the U.S. could and should commit to for the event. The U.S .government has shown leadership on food security issues through USAID’s Feed the Future initiative, former Secretary Clinton’s commitments to the 1,000 day window for good nutrition, the Child Survival Call to Action and other activities and initiatives. But the U.S. also has an important role to play in sustaining international support for the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement and supporting developing countries that are investing in improving nutrition.

The U.S. should commit a total of $450 million each year from 2014 to 2016 to nutrition interventions, such as promoting breastfeeding and hand washing, providing key micronutrient supplements and treating cases of severe acute malnutrition.

On April 26th a coalition of nutrition organizations met with senior Obama administration officials to emphasize the importance of nutrition investments and strong nutrition policy. We delivered a letter signed by our CEOs outlining policies, explained below, that would help us meet global nutrition goals.

What the U.S. government can do

We think the U.S. should commit a total of $450 million each year from 2014 to 2016 to nutrition interventions, such as promoting breastfeeding and hand washing, providing key micronutrient supplements and treating cases of severe acute malnutrition. This level of commitment would represent 10 percent of the estimated global cost of growing programs to promote good nutrition in the countries with the highest burden of undernutrition.  

We would also like to see the country strengthen its leadership on nutrition by developing a government-wide strategy to improve global nutrition. The U.S.’s food security and health interventions could be even more effective if they were delivered in a way that routinely took into account the ways in which disease, hygiene, and food insecurity contribute to undernutrition and targeted the populations most at risk of undernutrition—pregnant women and young children.

Since different government agencies are responsible for parts of the U.S.’s health, food security, livelihoods, water, sanitation, and hygiene efforts, we recommend establishing a high-level nutrition focal point who would have the authority and responsibility to measure and maximize these programs’ nutritional impacts. Establishing nutrition point people within each of the relevant offices and hiring more full-time nutrition staff in overseas offices of key countries to coordinate efforts would strengthen the food security and water, sanitation and hygiene programs’ positive impact on nutrition.

Across different programs and government agencies, progress is measured towards various objectives, which do not always show how well they are addressing nutritional needs. A good first step for the U.S. government would be to determine which programs have a nutritional impact and then make sure that nutrition measurements are part of the evaluations of these programs, so that we can see how U.S. programs contribute to the global nutrition goals set by the World Health Assembly in 2012.

With focused effort by governments, organizations working in nutrition, and other partners, we think we can meet these ambitious goals.

Stay tuned for more information on Nutrition for Growth and how you can help, coming in June.

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About Lily Frey

Lily is our Advocacy Officer, raising awareness and shaping policy for nutrition, water, and food security issues around the world.