The Summer Olympic Games kick off today in Rio de Janeiro, bringing people and nations together through sport. On 4th August, a day before the grand opening ceremony, another important event was also held in Rio in the side-lines of the Olympics, which was to have paved the way for progress and prosperity for all individuals and nations alike. Who could better understand the importance of good nutrition to promote health, stamina, and potential, than Olympic athletes?
In 2013, The UK hosted the Nutrition for Growth summit in London. This was instrumental in bringing much needed attention to the neglected issue of malnutrition and raise much needed resources to tackle the issue. At this summit, the baton passed from the UK to Brazil to host the next one in Rio, to ‘review progress and make additional commitments’.
The Rio Nutrition for growth ‘media event’ is over now, but no financial commitments were made, nor was there an announcement of a summit in the future for new pledges to be made. This reflects a lack of political will and commitment to tackling malnutrition, which will have devastating consequences for millions of the worlds poorest people. Time is of the essence here because malnutrition underlies around 3 million child deaths every year; over 8000 children every day.
The economic losses of malnutrition are colossal. As a global community, we lose an estimated US$ 3.5 trillion annually. Despite such clear economic benefits, donors and governments spend just over 1% of their aid and national budgets respectively on efforts to tackle malnutrition. It’s not that we do not know what works – the Lancet has released ample evidence on solutions with the greatest impact on reducing malnutrition in vulnerable groups.
‘Ending malnutrition in all its forms’ is also a goal we have now enshrined within the Sustainable Development Agenda. Costings led by the World Bank, Results for Development, and 1000 Days estimated that an additional US$ 7 billion/year over the next ten years is needed to achieve the World Health Assembly targets to reduce rates of stunting, wasting, anaemia, low birthweight, childhood overweight, and improve breastfeeding. At current levels of investment (only around US$ 4 billion annually ) our efforts simply don't match the ambition of the targets we have set ourselves. In 2008, the Copenhagen consensus think tank identified tackling malnutrition as a key global development priority. Now in 2016, they have reinforced tackling childhood malnutrition as one of the critical and high-impact areas to further progress on the SDGs.
As the excitement of the Olympics games rises and fades, let’s not forget to keep up the momentum for Nutrition for Growth. After all, good nutrition lays the foundation for everything a child can do or be – including becoming an Olympic champion. A pledging Nutrition for Growth summit in 2017 (if not sooner) would be the right opportunity for donors and governments alike to demonstrate their commitment to this important issue. Let’s not wait for the Olympics in Japan in 2020, for each day lost is taking us further away from our goal, and is just too precious for the thousands of children fighting for a healthy life.