We need ambitious action to end malnutrition by 2030

On the eve of the Olympic opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, the world’s best athletes prepared to represent their countries in the Parade of Nations. At the same time, the government of Brazil, with the UK and Japan as partners, hosted an event to discuss global progress made in tackling malnutrition—highlighting Brazil’s success—and the need for continued focus on nutrition through increased investments and political commitments.

Malnutrition, which includes both over-nutrition and undernutrition, negatively impacts 1 in 3 people globally and claims the lives of over 3 million children each year. It also costs the global economy nearly US $3 trillion in lost productivity and healthcare costs. On the other hand, funding for improved nutrition results in long-term health and social benefits over and above the funds invested:  for every US $1 invested in nutrition, there is an estimated US $16 return in increased productivity. So, despite being a "best buy" for development, nutrition initiatives have been consistently and critically underfunded with an annual gap in nutrition funding estimated at US $7 billion.

Improved efforts to track and monitor nutrition funding and programs and new research provides a fuller understanding of how investments in nutrition impact a country from a health and economic standpoint. This costing analysis found that an additional US $7 billion per year for the next 10 years would reduce stunting (low height for age) among children and anemia in women, increase exclusive breastfeeding rates, and mitigate the impact of wasting (low weight for age). These targets constitute four of the six adopted by the World Health Assembly to be met by 2025. Unfortunately, the world is not on pace to reach these targets.

We also know that not all donors are keeping pace with the commitments they have already made to fund nutrition programs. ACTION’s Follow the Funding:  Nutrition for Growth scorecard tracks the commitments made at the 2013 Nutrition for Growth summit in London, a year after that city hosted the 2012 Olympics. At this summit, world leaders committed to mobilizing more resources for nutrition, pledging $4.15 billion to nutrition-specific programs and $19 billion to nutrition-sensitive programs in various timeframes up to 2020. Though this was not nearly enough to fill the global funding gap for nutrition, it indicated a willingness to prioritize nutrition as a critical investment.

Three years on, our scorecard shows that several donors are not disbursing their pledges at levels needed to fulfil their commitments. Moreover, some pledges were ill defined in the first place—or were simply unambitious. Yet, the news is not all bad. Some donors, such as the EU, Germany, and Ireland, made ambitious pledges and have followed through by disbursing funding consistently.

Leadership from the "global south" has also grown stronger in the last three years. The recent event in Rio highlighted the impressive progress made in the country over the last 15 years in bringing down rates of malnutrition by 80 percent. The African Development Bank president, Akinwumi Adesina, also delivered a video message in which he threw his support behind increased investments in nutrition, stating that, "stunted children today make stunted economies tomorrow."  He also highlighted regional initiatives like the African Leaders in Nutrition Network as a means to strengthening political will to tackle this global challenge.

We applaud these examples of commitment and boldness to the nutrition community.

What is next for nutrition advocacy?

It will be important for civil society working in-country and alongside donor institutions to continue to push the N4G donors to deliver on their current pledges. At the same time, we must encourage governments and other donors to increase their overall investments for nutrition. The gap in funding and the levels of reduction in malnutrition required will not be met with a "business as usual" performance, nor will it suffice to have commitments only from the "usual suspects." While donors need to increase investments for nutrition-specific and -sensitive programs, responsibility also falls on countries dealing with high rates of malnutrition to mobilize domestic resources toward nutrition programs, and develop strong, well-monitored policies and programs to address malnutrition for the sake of their nation’s health and development.

Innovative funding mechanisms, like the World Bank’s Global Financing Facility and the Power of Nutrition initiative, will also help to fill the gap in funding through leveraging private sector investments from multiple stakeholders. Finally, leaders from the "global north" and "global south" must create space for nutrition to feature on high-level global platforms where additional public commitments can be made. A critical next step will be to announce the next Nutrition for Growth summit where all these players can re-commit to addressing malnutrition in the form of increased funding for nutrition. Not doing so risks the health of our children and the future of our economies.

Read the statement released by the International Coalition on Advocacy for Nutrition (ICAN) on the Rio N4G media moment, and learn more about what ACTION partners think about their government’s leadership on nutrition:

Learn more about Nutrition for Growth and other critical moments for global leadership on nutrition at