Highlights from latest nutrition report by UN agencies

Recently, four United Nation (UN) agencies published a second annual report on progress in Asia and the Pacific towards the Sustainable Development Goal 2–Zero Hunger–to eliminate hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

The four agencies are the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The report noted that substantial advances have been made in region towards eliminating hunger and malnutrition, but progress has slowed recently. As time draws nearer to 2030 and around half a billion people are still undernourished, efforts to tackle persistent issues and emerging hurdles need to be escalated.

Statistics are not encouraging

The prevalence of stunting and wasting are still high; stunting rates are higher than 20 percent in most countries in the region. In 2018, approximately 77.2 million children under five years of age were stunted and 32.5 million suffered from wasting.

The battle to overcome child undernutrition is further complicated by a growing prevalence of other forms of malnutrition. Overweight, obesity and micronutrient deficiencies are occurring in individual households and in some cases, in the same person.

Increasing investments in high-quality data collection is necessary to measure progress towards food security and better nutrition. Some countries have already done so, partly to monitor progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. However, many countries still lack good-quality data of national nutrition status, and this hinders the formation of informed policies to address childhood malnutrition.

In the Asia Pacific region, the prevalence of adulthood obesity is on the rise. Policies that aim at prevention is the most effective way to tackle this problem, and that entails ensuring healthy diets for children. Obesity-related diseases, including diabetes and diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs), have increased in many countries in the region, particularly in the Pacific Islands. This puts a strain on national healthcare budgets and causes losses in productivity.

Successful interventions need to be further escalated

Various countries initiated taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages to combat obesity and the increase in diet-related NCDs. A growing body of evidence indicates that such taxes can be effective public interventions.

Several countries are fortifying foods and condiments with iodine, iron, folic acid and vitamins A, D, and B, among others. One such food item is rice, and some countries are also formulating national guidelines and regulations for the fortification of other foods such as milk, edible oils and wheat flour. These efforts should be scaled up to overcome the issue of micronutrient deficiencies.

There is scope in the Asia Pacific region to intensify the utilization of social protection to improve nutrition. The design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of social protection systems should incorporate objectives and principles on food security and nutrition. Empowering women is vital in this strategy.

Social protection can also be more nutrition-sensitive by being shock-responsive, so that shocks do not lead to adverse coping mechanisms and poor nutritional outcomes. For instance, designing flexible social protection systems that can respond to shocks and build resilience among the poor and vulnerable.

Read the full report here: FAO, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2019. Placing Nutrition at the Centre of Social Protection. Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2019. Bangkok, FAO

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