The 2018 Global Nutrition Report highlights the worrying prevalence and universality of malnutrition in all its forms.

Now in its fifth addition, the Global Nutrition Report is the world’s foremost publication on the status of malnutrition around the world. It acts as a stock take on the world’s nutrition—globally, regionally and country by country—and on efforts to improve it. It tracks progress on global nutrition targets, ranging from diet-related non-communicable diseases to maternal, infant and young child nutrition.

The 2018 Global Nutrition Report reviews existing processes, highlights progress in combating malnutrition and identifies gaps and proposes ways to solve them. Through this, the report guides action, builds accountability and sparks increased commitment for furthering the progress that can reduce malnutrition much faster.

According to the report, Africa is the region hardest hit by overlapping forms of malnutrition. Of 41 countries that struggle with three forms of malnutrition – childhood stunting, anaemia in women of reproductive age and overweight among women – 30, or 73%, are in Africa.

“The figures call for immediate action. Malnutrition is responsible for more ill-health than any other cause. The health consequences of overweight and obesity contribute to an estimated four million deaths globally. The uncomfortable question is not so much “why are things so bad?” but “why are things not better when we know so much more than before?” said Co-Chair of the Report and Director of the Centre for Food Policy, Corinna Hawkes.

The report also highlights that significant steps are being made to address malnutrition. Globally, stunting among children under five years of age has fallen from 32.6% in 2000 to 22.2% in 2017. Yet, while stunting in children under five years of age is declining at a global level, the numbers in Africa are increasing. Driven by population growth, despite the decrease in stunting prevalence in Africa, the number of stunted children has steadily increased from 50.6 million in 2000 to 58.7 million in 2017.

Data shows an overall increase in both overweight and obesity in Africa. At the same time, the region is undergoing significant growth in consumption of packaged foods.

At the global level, none of the countries with sufficient data are on course to meet all nine targets on malnutrition. Africa is no exception. Of the nine global nutrition targets assessed in 2018, there are five targets for which none of the 54 African countries are on track. Africa was the only region not to experience an overall increase in the rate of under-five overweight, experiencing stagnation in overweight prevalence since 2000. However, in children aged 5-19 levels of overweight and obesity in both girls and boys have increased, with girls registering a faster increase than boys. Spending around nutrition at the national levels is inconsistent, with governments just as likely to increase future spending as to decrease it. Overall, total nutrition-related official development assistance allocated to Africa has increased over the last five years.

The report’s authors urge critical steps in the following areas:

  • Breaking down existing silos to tackle malnutrition in all its forms;
  • Prioritising and investing in data to identify key areas of action;
  • Scaling up and diversifying funding for nutrition programmes;
  • Immediately taking action on healthy diets by making healthy foods affordable across the globe;
  • Implementing more ambitious commitments that are designed for impact through SMART targets.

“While malnutrition is holding back human development everywhere, costing billions of dollars a year, we are now in a position to fight it. From policies such as sugar taxes, to new data that enables us to understand what people are eating and how we can best target interventions, the global community now has the recipes that work,” said Co-Chair of the Report and Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University, Jessica Fanzo, PhD.

Executive Director at UNICEF, Henrietta H Fore, added that the 2018 Global Nutrition Report offers forward-looking steps to strengthen the ability of global and national food systems to deliver nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets for children.

“This paradigm shift – food systems that contribute to prevent malnutrition in all its forms – will be critical for children’s growth and development, the growth of national economies, and the development of nations,” concluded Fore.

The Global Nutrition Report is backed and supported, among others, by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Department for International Development (UK), USAID, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Government of Canada, Irish Aid, The Eleanor Crook Foundation and the European Commission.

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