FAO in North America

Critical Actions for Nutrition Equity


23 July 2020 – “Transforming our food systems as well as our health systems are critical pillars to ending malnutrition in all its forms and achieving nutritional wellbeing for all,” stated Renata Micha, Co-Chair of the Global Nutrition Report’s Independent Expert Group, during the webinar Critical Actions for Nutrition Equity. FAO North America and the Alliance to End Hunger co-hosted the webinar featuring food and nutrition experts to better understand the impacts of inequitable food systems on nutrition.

“We have often heard how there is enough food in the world to feed the entire global population, but what we have not often heard is whether there is enough nutritious food available and accessible to ensure a healthy diet for all,” probed Vimlendra Sharan, Director of FAO North America in his opening remarks.

“A key principle of the Sustainable Development Goals is to leave no one behind, recognizing the need to start with the furthest away first. In effect the SDGs have put equity front and center,” said Asma Lateef, Interim Executive Director of the Alliance to End Hunger and Director of Bread for the World Institute, who moderated the discussion. “The [COVID-19] crisis has laid bare all of society's shortcomings, lack of access to a healthy diet and good nutrition is driving these disparities.” She highlighted recent reports highlighting the issue, namely the 2020 Global Nutrition Report, 2020 Hunger Report: Better Nutrition, Better Tomorrow, and State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI 2020).

Providing the keynote address and the findings of the 2020 Global Nutrition Report: Action on equity to end malnutrition (2020 GNR) report was Renata Micha, Research Associate Professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and Co-Chair of the 2020 Global Nutrition Report’s Independent Expert Group.

“Inequity is our defining challenge in ending malnutrition in all its forms, most people cannot afford or access a healthy diet or even quality nutrition care. This access is hindered by unjust systems and processes holding people back from healthy diets and lives,” said Micha. “Unfairness, injustice, and social inclusion are determined by social factors, such as wealth, sociocultural perception of age, gender, and ethnicity. These social determinants are the root causes of nutrition inequity that can lead to unequal nutrition outcomes.”

“Poor nutrition and poor diets are the leading cause of illness in nearly all parts of the world,” underlined Micha. "While global patterns are important for capturing the magnitude of the problem on a global scale such data can actually hide significant inequalities or differences between and within countries.”

Transforming health care systems to fully integrate nutrition; providing universal health coverage; and rethinking food systems from production to consumption to make healthy sustainable food the most accessible, affordable, and desirable choice are actions the GNR report recommends to address nutrition equity. “Governments, businesses, and civil society need to work together and be part of the solution, with appropriate mechanisms in place to track effectiveness, financing, and accountability,” added Micha.

Following the address, panelists shared their insights on the need for nutrition equity, including Stineke Oenema, Coordinator of the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition; Leslie Elder, Senior Nutrition Specialist, Global Financing Facility Secretariat, World Bank; and Jessica Fanzo, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Global Food and Agricultural Policy and Ethics, and Director of the Johns Hopkins Global Food Ethics and Policy Program.  

“Inequity and inequality are so persistent that we cannot escape challenging it anymore,” said Stineke Oenema. According to the latest SOFI report, Oenema shared that 3 billion people globally are unable to afford a healthy and diverse diet. Poor diets are not only impacting health outcomes but are also contributing to poor environmental outcomes through unsustainable food systems. Healthy diets require diversifying food production to include more fruits, vegetables, fish, and other nutritious foods. She also added that the food, social protection, and health sectors need to work more closely for better nutrition outcomes. Food-based Dietary Guidelines can be a useful tool to help consumers, producers and policy-makers to make healthier and more sustainable decisions.  

Leslie Elder shared how the Global Financing Facility (GFF), an entity housed within the World Bank, was launched in 2015 to contribute toward the ending of preventable maternal child and adolescent deaths and improving the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable women, children and adolescents globally. Through country-led platforms, GFF helps countries transform how they invest in health and nutrition. “An equity analysis is a fundamental part of the prioritization process for the Global Finance Facility engagement in a country,” emphasized Elder. 

“We have not done enough to address inequities when it comes to nutrition and diets,” said Fanzo. She explained that nutrition vulnerability is an outcome of being marginalized. Marginalized populations have been denied opportunities across different systems such as health, food and education. Inequities in food systems have contributed to the high burden of malnutrition. She underlined the need to focus on marginalized populations and equity in order to achieve better nutrition outcomes. “If we do not address structural inequities, we are not going to be able to achieve any of the SDGs,” said Fanzo.

“We will never end malnutrition unless everyone is treated fairly,” concluded Mecha. The engaging session underlined that in order to achieve nutrition equity, we need to elevate nutrition as a key priority for the health, food, agriculture and social protection sectors, while also addressing the structural and systematic inequities that exist. The COVID-19 health pandemic is a key opportunity to make our food and health systems nutrition-sensitive and contribute towards healthier and sustainable diets.

Watch the full webinar.

More resources

2020 Global Nutrition Report

State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020

2020 Hunger Report: Better Nutrition, Better Tomorrow