Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), 19-21 November 2014

Key messages

1. Improve people’s nutrition everywhere, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

While significant progress has been made over the last 20 years,  persistent and unacceptably high levels of undernutrition—both hunger and micronutrient deficiencies, particularly in developing countries—remain. In addition, the burden of overweight and obesity is growing rapidly. These are all forms of malnutrition. 

  • The prevalence of hunger has declined, but too many people still go hungry—at least 805 million (1 in 9 people) in 2012–14, down 21 percent from the billion people estimated in 1990–92.
  • Stunting (low height-for-age) and wasting (low weight-for-height) have also declined, both in numbers and in prevalence, but an estimated 161 million and 51 million children under five, respectively, were still affected in 2013.
  • Micronutrient deficiencies, or “hidden hunger” due to a lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet, remain largely unchecked, affecting around 2 billion people (around 30 percent of the world’s population) with severe health consequences.
  • Rates of obesity, in children and adults, have been rising rapidly, as has the incidence of noncommunicable diseases related to diet, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. An estimated 42 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2013. More than 500 million adults are obese.
  • Many developing countries now face multiple burdens of malnutrition, with people living in the same communities—sometimes even the same households—suffering from undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and obesity. The most nutritionally vulnerable communities often include low-income, resource-poor, socially excluded and economically marginalized food-insecure households. Unacceptably high levels of malnutrition will likely persist unless these communities have access to health care, water and sanitation, agricultural inputs and technical support, education, employment and social protection—services that are essential for good nutrition.

2. Good nutrition requires more sustainable, equitable and resilient food systems.

Food systems should produce not just more food but also help ensure more nutritious, diverse and balanced diets. The term “food systems” includes the resources, environment, people, institutions and processes with which food is produced, processed, stored, distributed, prepared and consumed. Food systems determine the quantity as well as the quality of the food supply in terms of nutrient content, diversity and safety.

3. Invest in nutrition to end all forms of malnutrition.

The elimination of malnutrition in all its forms is an imperative for ethical, political economic and social reasons. While the cost of dealing with the effects of malnutrition—whether in fiscal, economic or human terms—is high, the cost of prevention is much less. Malnutrition in all its forms costs $2.8–3.5 trillion, equivalent to 4-5% of global GDP, or $400–500 per person.

Investing in nutrition improves productivity and economic growth, reduces health care costs and promotes education, intellectual capacity and social development.

The most nutritionally vulnerable households tend to consume diets that are monotonous and nutrient-poor, often carbohydrate-rich staples with little diversity. In line with the ICN2 slogan “Better nutrition, better lives”, the lives of all people around the world will improve if we can improve their diets.

4. Improving nutrition is a public good and a responsibility of all.

Malnutrition is one of the greatest threats to people’s health and well-being. It imposes unacceptably high health, social and economic costs, especially on women, children and the elderly, and more broadly on families and society. It has a detrimental impact on human physical and cognitive development, and thus also on productivity and economic growth.

Improving nutrition, and ensuring everyone has access to a healthy diet, is not the responsibility of the individual alone. Nutrition is a public issue that must be addressed primarily by governments, in collaboration with other stakeholders including civil society, the private sector and academia.

5. Malnutrition is a global problem requiring global and local solutions

A global meeting is essential to get the high-level political commitment necessary to eradicate all forms of malnutrition. Key sectors—like food and agriculture, health, water and sanitation, social protection, employment and education—need to collaborate to ensure policies are aligned to improve the nutritional well-being of millions of people around the globe.

The ICN2 Rome Declaration on Nutrition and Framework for Action outline how national and global food, health and related systems and reforms must work together to improve nutritional outcomes.