The lack of essential vitamins and minerals in diets, known as hidden hunger, affects over two billion people worldwide. This was the focus of this year’s Global Hunger Index, launched on Monday by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide. Despite increased access to food, the absence of micronutrients in a person’s diet can wholly undermine efforts to tackle hunger and malnutrition. Because micronutrient deficiencies in all but their most severe forms are invisible, affecting people’s ability to fight disease and work proactively, and for children, to grow adequately, but not producing a specific physical disease, they are often overlooked.
Focusing on nutrition security on World Food Day
Today, as civil society, governments and communities come together in a call to action on World Food Day (WFD), the GHI is a reminder that efforts are needed tackle the causes of malnutrition. The focus of WFD this year is on “feeding the world, caring for the earth”. It highlights significant role of family farming in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition.
This marks a shift in how the global community thinks about hunger; moving beyond just thinking about consuming enough energy to thinking about nutrition more holistically and looking and what the nutrition community calls nutrition security. Nutrition security is about consuming the right amounts (not too little or too much) foods, in adequate amounts to meet both energy and nutrient needs to live a healthy and active life.
Governments need to support the fight against ‘hidden hunger’
Malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, are caused by a range of factors from poor dietary diversity by reliance on a few staple foods, to unsanitary environments due to lack of clean water and sanitation facilities leading to disease and poor absorption of nutrients. Additionally, wider structural barriers have an impact, such as a families’ ability to purchase ‘nutritious’ foods or maternity cover benefits allowing mothers to breastfeed exclusively for six months.
As Lawrence Haddad, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI discussed on Monday night, the soon to be launched Global Nutrition Report found there is only data on micronutrient deficiencies for 5 out of 185 countries globally, highlighting both the need for more data on micronutrient status and the need for more actions to fight micronutrient deficiencies.
There are some interesting programmes underway seeking to improve micronutrient status of poor and vulnerable households and trial and ways of increasing dietary diversity. In Zambia, over 40 per cent of children under five are stunted or too short for their age due to inadequate dietary intake and disease. At the launch of the GHI, we heard from Richard Mwape, the District Programme Coordinator for Concern Worldwide in Zambia who told us about an agricultural programme he works on, Realigning Agriculture to Improve Nutrition (RAIN) which aims increase household consumption of crops of high nutritional value, as well as increasing homestead gardening and small scale animal husbandry.
While programmes like these are critical to trial new programmes and reach those communities who often struggle to access government programmes, ultimately we need governments to step in and for people to hold their governments to account.
What needs to happen next?
What do we need to do as a global community to address the challenge of hidden hunger?
- Post 2015 development goals need to include specific goals not just looking at hunger and food security but taking a much broader view of the need for nutrition security and ensuring goals and indicators will address hidden hunger.
- There is a need to create an enabling environment globally that will increases people’s access, especially vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and adolescent girls, to micronutrient rich foods and invest more into sustainable and diversified productivity increases for a range of foods such as fruits, vegetables and animal source foods.
- Governments must ensure that they are creating a regulatory environment that promotes good nutrition- actions that range from enforcing the codes regulating the marketing of breast milk substitutes to ensuring that private companies are incentivised to produce nutritious foods.
We need to make sure that the Global Hunger Index is used as a tool to incentivise action and that people can use the information to hold their government to account and push for more action to ensure that everyone, everywhere has adequate food to lead an active and healthy life.
By Katherine Pittore – Nutrition Convenor at the Institute of Development Studies
Originally posted on IDS Povertics – 16 October 2014