Why ending malnutrition is a quintessential 21st century development goal.

Author:Haddad, Lawrence

25 February 2015

In the run up to the announcement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) in September every development issue is clamouring for attention. The constituencies behind each issue run the risk of being accused of 'bandwagoning'--linking their particular issue to the SDGs when the arguments for such a link are less than strong.

I am a big advocate of nutrition goals being strongly embedded within the SDGs. At present, the 17 Goals are underpinned by 169 targets and only one includes nutrition indicators (targeting malnutrition in under-5s). This is surprising. The just-released Global Nutrition Report, which I co-chaired, concludes that malnutrition--undernutrition, like stunting, and overnutrition, like obesity--affects 1 in 2 people on the planet. In fact, only two countries, China and South Korea, fail to cross these nutrition and public health 'red lines', but they are both very close. Make no mistake, the consequences of malnutrition are severe. Forty-five per cent of under-5 deaths are associated with undernutrition. Undernutrition represents a year-on-year drag on African and Asian GDP of 11%. Obesity in the US costs 10% of median income, and obesity in China is forecast to cost it 9% of GNP in 2025.

But some may argue that the large scale and serious consequences of a problem are merely necessary, not sufficient, features for an issue to make it into the SDGs. There are three other things needed to make a convincing case for an issue to be targeted by the SDG--and malnutrition has them all.

  1. The issue has to have relevance for all countries: low-, middle- and high-income. The MDGs were about rich countries as donors and poor countries as recipients. Those days are waning because the SDGs will be funded by increasingly large domestic resource mobilization flows and affect all countries.

    Nearly all counties are dealing with some type of malnutrition, whether calorie or micronutrient deficiency interacting with infectious diseases. Or overweight and obesity, which are major risk factors for dietrelated chronic disease such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. In fact nearly half of all countries are dealing with both undernutrition and overnutrition at the same time.

  2. The issue must be relevant for intergenerational equity. After all, this is the concept at the core of sustainable development: what does this generation do to enable or diminish the ability of the next to survive and thrive?

    Malnutrition is...

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