Nutrition to take center stage at summer conference

After facing a food crisis a decade ago, Brazil is one of the largest exporter of agricultural products. Photo: USAID

By Bryana Braxton

This August will see the return of the Summer Olympics. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will play host.

Behind all of the displays of athleticism at the games are years of intensive training. An important part of the training for world-class athletes is eating well and getting proper nutrition to build strong muscles and stamina.

Nutrition is a pathway to a healthy, active life for anybody, athlete or not. But it’s still fitting that an international conference on nutrition will be a precursor to the Olympics.

Government leaders from around the world have the opportunity to commit to investing in the improvement of nutrition among mothers and children in particular at the Nutrition for Growth Summit in Rio, which will take place before the Olympics on Aug. 4. This year, Bread is focusing on the nutrition of these groups, which are most vulnerable to malnutrition.

“Countries are facing complex overlays of connected malnutrition burdens that need concentrated action at the policy, health-system and community levels,” said the World Health Organization’s Global Nutrition Policy Brief, published in 2014.

Many countries, including the U.S., are not investing enough in nutrition through their foreign assistance budgets. The proposed U.S. nutrition budget significantly decreased to $108 million in the president’s fiscal year 2017 budget request released in February. The Rio summit will provide the opportunity for countries to make new political and financial commitments to nutrition.

World Health Organization (WHO) member countries will specifically discuss ways to reach WHO’s six global nutrition targets by 2025:

  1. 40 percent reduction in the number of children under 5 who are stunted
  2. 50 percent reduction of anemia in women of reproductive age
  3. 30 percent reduction in low birth weights
  4. No increase in childhood obesity
  5. Increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding of newborns (first six months) to at least 50 percent
  6. Reduce and maintain childhood wasting (loss of body weight) to less than 5 percent

These nutrition targets are essentially the agenda of the summit as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by many of the world’s nations last year. Goal 2 of the SDGs is to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

Bread’s 2016 Offering of Letters urges Congress to accelerate global progress against malnutrition. The specific request is for Congress to increase U.S. funding for the nutrition and health of mothers, newborns, and young children to $230 million. This increase would send a strong message of support for the six global nutrition targets.

“We are hoping the U.S. is going to make a robust financial pledge and policy commitment for the future,” said Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute. “Without new resources, we will never achieve the goals.”

Bread is urging President and Mrs. Obama to represent the U.S. at the nutrition summit. The U.S. is the largest donor to global programs for the health of mothers and children. The summit provides the U.S. government with a visible and tangible moment to continue leading the world toward ending hunger through improved nutrition.

To track global and country-specific progress in the six nutrition target areas, use WHO’s Global Targets Tracking tool.

Tell Congress to increase funding for the nutrition and health of mothers, newborns, and young children today. Learn more about the 2016 Offering of Letters: Survive and Thrive, and make sure to participate in a letter-writing event.

Bryana Braxton is a communications intern at Bread for the World and a student at American University.

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