By Dr. Manfred Eggersdorfer
Dr. Manfred Eggersdorfer is a Professor for Healthy Ageing at the University Medical Center Groningen and a Senior Vice President and Head for Nutritional Science Advocacy at DSM Nutritional Products.
We are witnessing a pivotal moment for nutrition. Forty-two countries have committed to scaling-up nutrition through the SUN Movement, and this number continues to grow. Governments and donors have pledged billions—$4.15 billion at the Nutrition for Growth event in the UK this June. But perhaps the most important development has been a new spirit of collaboration.
When the Lancet’s 2008 Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition was published, it highlighted that the biggest challenges in the fight against malnutrition could be coming from within. Today we know that siloed efforts have proved unsuccessful in fighting the root causes of malnutrition and that a new way of thinking—one that embodies collective action and cross-sector partnerships—is crucial to the future success of the nutrition movement.
Collective action is vital because every sector touches nutrition, and nutrition touches every sector. Better farming practices make nutritious food more accessible. Health care and improvements to water, hygiene, and sanitation prevent diseases like diarrhea, which rob children of nutrients. Public-private partnerships like food fortification programs ensure that people get the micronutrients they need to stay healthy and fight disease. Support for nutrition interventions like breastfeeding gives babies a strong start in life.
And well-nourished children can then grow up to excel in the fields, in the laboratory, or in the Capitol.
In fact, it has been estimated that undernutrition reduces a nation’s economic advancement by at least 8 percent due to direct productivity losses, losses via poorer cognition, and losses via reduced schooling. Children who are well-nourished—especially in the 1,000 days between pregnancy and their second birthday—grow up to learn more, earn more, and stay healthy. But those who are malnourished suffer irreversible and lifelong damage, including stunted growth and impaired cognitive development.
One aspect of malnutrition that affects two billion people worldwide—in both developing and developed countries—is hidden hunger, or chronic micronutrient deficiencies. Addressing hidden hunger is a perfect example of how partners have come together across sectors to improve nutrition.