What were the outcomes of the Second International Conference on Nutrition?

Summary

More than half the world’s population is adversely affected by malnutrition. FAO and WHO recently held their second intergovernmental conference to address the world’s nutrition problems in the 21st century. The Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) closed with very ambitious objectives to meet an urgent goal: ending malnutrition.

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From 19-21 November 2014 in Rome, FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and WHO (World Health Organization) brought together more than 170 leaders of government to address a global emergency: despite all the policies developed to fight malnutrition, it still affects one in nine people. FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva urged lawmakers from around the world to play their parts in bringing positive results from the commitments to provide healthier diets for all which governments were expected to adopt at the ICN2.

‘Improving nutrition requires a collective effort. It requires well-designed laws that improve food systems, ensure healthy diets and strengthen school meals. It also requires adequate public budgets and it calls for strong legal frameworks that consolidate advances and allow us to press ahead,’

Graziano da Silva said. ICN2 particularly focused on undernutrition, health problems due to malnutrition or food safety issues, and the depletion of natural resources. The aim of ICN2 is to create consensus on how to address major nutrition challenges—including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and overweight—with a view to achieving the global nutrition targets set by the World Health Assembly for 2025.

A changing context

The global economy, food systems and the nutritional status of populations have changed markedly since the first ICN in 1992. A new policy framework and more appropriate responses are needed, which is why a second ICN was necessary (read our article here). Fighting hunger and malnutrition is one of the world’s main challenges, as identified by the United Nations: it is the first of the UN Millennium Development Goals (to eradicate poverty and hunger) and it is being tackled by the UN’s “Zero Hunger Challenge”.  In 2013, by FAO assessments there were 867 million chronically undernourished people in the world. One third of children (nearly 147 million) in developing countries are underweight and stunted. When they do get food, most of the time it does not contain enough micronutrients, vitamins and minerals: more than one third of preschool-age children globally are vitamin A deficient, according to the WHO. These deficiencies facilitate disease and can provoke sub-optimal intellectual development. Undernutrition hinders education.

But action requires means

‘We need adequate finance to be able to put into practice the ICN2 Framework for Action,’ the Director-General reminded delegates. ‘That is not a minor issue.’

To support governments in transforming commitments into concrete actions, ICN2 established the Action for Nutrition Trust Fund. “The fund will mobilize resources for programmes and projects that foster enabling environments for nutrition, promote sustainable food systems and nutrition-enhancing trade, increase nutrition information, improve food safety and make nutrition part of stronger social safety nets.” It will also help countries build their monitoring processes, ensuring accountability for nutrition commitments.

A much-needed change of mindset

But beyond finance, some argue that a change of mindset is what is truly needed – and that the private sector must shoulder its responsibilities in the combat against malnutrition. Pope Francis thus gave a speech at the ICN2, in which he spoke of waste and excessive consumption of food, as well as the rights of those who go hungry. “Nowadays there is much talk of rights, frequently neglecting duties; perhaps we have paid too little heed to those who are hungry. It is also painful to see that the struggle against hunger and malnutrition is hindered by ‘market priorities’, the ‘primacy of profit’, which have reduced foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation, also of a financial nature.” It is not only governments that can play their part in ending hunger.

The heads of government present closed the ICN2 conference with the Rome Declaration on Nutrition. In this document they addressed the multiple challenges of malnutrition in all its forms, and identified opportunities for tackling them in the coming decades. In the Declaration, all members of ICN2 committed to “eradicate hunger and prevent all forms of malnutrition worldwide, particularly undernourishment, stunting, wasting, underweight and overweight in children under five years of age.” To achieve that, they called for :

‘- investments for effective interventions and actions to improve people’s diets and nutrition, including in emergency situations;

– enhance sustainable food systems by developing coherent public policies from production to consumption and across relevant sectors to provide year-round access to food that meets people’s nutrition needs and promote safe and diversified healthy diets;

– raise the profile of nutrition within relevant national strategies, policies, actions plans and programmes, and align national resources accordingly.’

These ambitious goals will need to be translated into public health policies and public funding (through the Action for Nutrition Trust Fund, but also at national and local levels) and will require strong participation from all actors in the food chain, including private companies. More than ever, we must all come together to “think global and act local.”

More on this subject:

Three ideas for changing our food system 

Why do we need a 2nd International Conference on Nutrition and Growth? 

Photo ©  Anton_Ivanov