A Coordinated Effort to Reduce Malnutrition: The Washington, DC GNR Launch

Along with events in Nairobi, New Delhi, Stockholm, and Johannesburg, the 2016 Global Nutrition Report launched on June 14, 2016, in Washington, DC.

Co-hosted by Bread for the World, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Humanitas Global, FoodTank, IFPRI, USAID, and 1,000 Days, the event brought together nutrition experts and policymakers to discuss the report's findings--and its relevance to policymaking, both within the US and abroad.

The event was moderated by Roger Thurow of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, who successfully highlighted the human side of malnutrition. Coming off of the recent release of his new book The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children—And the World, Thurow emphasized that good nutrition is essential to allowing children to reach their potential.

Marie Ruel, Director of the Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division at IFPRI, presented key takeaways from the report, including actionable items such as strong implementation, better data, and political leadership to pave the way for ending malnutrition. She called for the need to speed up progress towards better nutrition, and stressed that all commitments to nutrition must be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound—to ensure success.

Marie Ruel (IFPRI) presented the findings of the 2016 GNR.

Marie Ruel (IFPRI) presented the findings of the 2016 GNR.

Patrick Stover of Cornell University then spoke to the United States’ experiences with malnutrition, explaining the link between folic acid fortification and reduced birth defects. He emphasized that nutritious food can and should replace medicine and affordable healthcare, underlining the scientific evidence behind investing in maternal and child nutrition for improved human health and global productivity.

USDA Senior Adviser for Nutrition and Health Yibo Wood presented the first-ever US Government Global Nutrition Coordination Plan, which covers the 2016-2021 period. She emphasized the huge scope of malnutrition today, with one in three people globally suffering from malnutrition , and doubling of childhood obesity rates in the US. As the world’s largest overseas development assistance (ODA) donor, the US will use this plan as a blueprint for improving communication, collaboration, and linking research to program implementation throughout its many diverse nutrition investments. The Coordination Plan highlighted six technical focus areas: food fortification; nutrition information systems; food safety; the first 1,000 days; nutrition-related non-communicable diseases; and HIV and nutrition.

Thurow kicked off the panel with the question “Why nutrition and why now?” Ellen Piwoz, Senior Program Officer for Nutrition at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, answered by explaining that 45 percent of childhood deaths included malnutrition as an underlying determinant. She stressed the importance of creating a global infrastructure that is more supportive of nutrition, and hailed the Coordination Plan as a critical step in the right direction.

Meera Shekar, the Global Lead for Nutrition at the World Bank, called attention to false assumptions about malnutrition, stating that increased wealth does not equate to better nutrition practices. She addressed social innovations for nutrition, explaining that what is important is not just what new services are delivered during interventions, but how existing solutions can be done better.

Sandra Hassink, Immediate Past President of the American Academy for Pediatrics, highlighted the depth of the problem, sharing that the youngest case of non-communicable disease as a result of obesity was age three. She encouraged looking at infant-feeding practices as a solution to chronic disease prevention, as nearly 50% of children in the U.S. have nutrition problems. She addressed the difficulty of behavior change, identifying it as a failing strategy in a toxic environment.

The speakers at the Washington, DC GNR launch.

The speakers at the Washington, DC GNR launch.

Rolf Klemm, Vice President for Nutrition at Helen Keller International, explained the enormous gap in the delivery of nutrition services, especially to children. He emphasized the importance of scaling up effective interventions, with a clear role identified for academia in implementing research and scaling up delivery of science. Taking a similar narrative as the GNR, Dr. Klemm responded to the challenge of behavior changes in toxic environments with the success story of tobacco smoking.

Jennifer Adams, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Global Health at USAID, stressed the need for better nutrition data, and for stronger contributions to come from the U.S. She explained that the U.S. government is on the right path by grading the impact of nutrition interventions by measuring preventable child and maternal deaths, but called for better coordination and flow of resources between the nutrition field and others, such as agriculture and global health.

The speakers and panel discussion led into a lively audience discussion, which touched on a wide range of topics, including overcoming toxic environments to improve nutrition, and the impact of social enterprise on improving nutrition-relevant infrastructure.

Authors: Nicole Graham, Associate, Humanitas Global, and Savanna Henderson, Associate, Humanitas Global