Nutrition: From fishing village to global stage

Nutrition: From fishing village to global stage

Published March 9, 2016

By: Dr. Gunhild A. Stordalen, director, EAT and
Lawrence Haddad, Senior Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute

Norway is a generous international aid donor- by OECD standards it ranks second in the world. Yet, on the issue of nutrition, Norway is lagging behind. This is one of the most surprising facts uncovered by the Global Nutrition Report (GNR), a global stock take on progress on ending malnutrition. 9th of Mars, the findings and recommendation from the Global Nutrition Report 2015 was presented in NORAD in Oslo.

Norway’s engagement with international nutrition dates back to the 1970’s and to the small fishing village of Bugøynes. This is where the GP Anders Forsdahl and his team conducted pioneering research that later revealed the links between malnutrition early in life, and the onset of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure later in life. Norway has also been a pioneer on the right to food through the work of Asbjorn Eide, Wenche Barth Eide and Arne Oshaug. It is time that Norway revives its past and brings nutrition to the forefront of its international agenda.

As a whole, the world is off course for all 8 nutrition indicators that the GNR tracks. However, below the global level, many countries are on course to meet some of the global nutrition targets: For example, Ethiopia and Bangladesh—described for decades by many as “basket cases” – are reducing malnutrition faster than ever before. In fact, nearly 40 countries are on course to reduce childhood malnutrition.

Despite this, there are problem areas. The most astonishing global failure is that no country has managed to reverse increasing obesity rates, and now overweight and obesity cause more deaths worldwide than undernutrition. Furthermore, only 5 out of 185 countries are on track to reduce anemia in women, and Norway is not one of them.

As one of the top ten donors to the UN, Norway must acknowledge that malnutrition cannot be separated from sustainable development.  Caring about preventing child deaths is caring about nutrition: 45% of all deaths under the age of 5 are linked to malnutrition. Caring about future generations is also caring about nutrition, as stunted children are at a greater risk for developing obesity as adults and the associated non-communicable diseases like type 2 diabetes. Finally, the economic returns of investing in nutrition are astonishing. Better nourished children do better in school and earn more in the labour market. The GNR estimates that for every NOK 1 invested in scaling up nutrition interventions, NOK 16 are returned.

Norway is one of 13 OECD donors that spends less than $1 million or NOK 8 million per year directly on nutrition. Joining the donor network of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement could be the next move. Given Norway’s leadership on international development, allocating more aid to nutrition, and doing more to weave nutrition into the very successful Norwegian development agenda, could inspire others to increase their spending too and develop integrated programmes. The latest estimates from the World Bank suggest that donor spending on nutrition will need to quadruple by 2025, and we hope that Norway´s current NOK 6.6 million investment is just the beginning of a long-term commitment.

But it is not all about money; Norway can play a leadership role. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) before them, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) apply to all countries, not just the so-called “developing” nations.  Nutrition being firmly embedded in the SDGs is a recognition that we are all in this together, as malnutrition- which encompasses both over- and undernutrition- affects 1 in 2 people on the planet, rich and poor. Nutrition is also integrated with the sustainable production and consumption of food. The food we eat is a major driver of both climate change and environmental degradation.

Norway can become a world leader in designing food systems that support livelihoods and jobs, that promote health and nutrition, and that respect planetary boundaries on resources and emissions.  Building on initiatives such as EAT, Norway can find and implement the right policy mixes to move food systems–in Norway and elsewhere–in these directions.

This August, prior to the Rio Olympics 2016, a major pledging opportunity will take place at the follow-up of the Nutrition for Growth Summit of 2013. Drawing on the legacy of the Norwegian nutrition pioneers and Norway’s international profile, we hope Norway will once again take the lead and champion human health and the environment as integrated and indivisible priorities through a renewed focus on nutrition.