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The 20th International Congress on Nutrition (ICN) was recently held in Granada, Spain. Held every four years, these “nutrition Olympics” are an opportunity to focus on emerging research and advances from across the community.
Since the previous ICN in 2009, we’ve seen a shift in how nutrition is perceived and prioritized on the global agenda. The case for nutrition investment has been made and is now being heard. There are more than 165 million children in the world whose growth and development has been stunted as a result of malnutrition, and this limited growth in turn limits families and communities. In contrast, well-nourished women and children contribute to healthy communities, and health communities contribute to stable, productive nations
The motto of the sporting Olympics is Faster. Higher. Stronger. The motto can be rethought to describe what the nutrition community is working towards: Faster progress. Higher goals. Stronger results and futures. What we heard at ICN 2013 is the potential to overcome the hurdles of malnutrition. We know the reasons for why nutrition and we heard more about the how we can create sustainable change.
We know breastfeeding is important—and at ICN we heard about the impact visits from well-trained front line health workers had on breastfeeding rates in Bangladesh, especially when messages were reinforced by the mass media.
We know that water and sanitation affects nutritional status—and we heard how partners in Bangladesh integrated nutrition interventions with water, sanitation and hygiene efforts and, by making interventions convenient, succeeded in improving nutrition outcomes.
We heard about successes integrating mobile technology in India and Kenya, promising opportunities to improve growth, how changing opinions on who owns and uses land in Burkina Faso is affecting nutrition and more.
We have promising research findings, and now we have the potential to translate this into real progress in alleviating malnutrition. But even effective solutions will not help if they do not reach the communities and individuals that will benefit. As we consider the potential for nutrition science, it is important to do so in the context of expanding effective approaches and improving access to innovations. The science is not enough—we need policies, programs and investments to make the potential possible. The evidence gives nutrition a strong foundation, so now we must continue to build.
In a way, it was fitting that the ICN in Granada was immediately followed by the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement Global Gathering in New York City. The two-day workshop brought together a cross-section of the people and organizations working to build on the foundation and realize the potential of nutrition. Participants, including Heads of State, government ministers, representatives of civil society, business, academia, donors and international organizations, came together for sessions targeting key areas of focus for the Movement, such as development of evidence-based national nutrition plans, and opportunities to align resources and bring people together.
Of the participants at the Global Gathering, more than half represented SUN countries—reflecting the movement we are seeing at the national-level, where commitments made to SUN and other efforts, including the Nutrition for Growth Compact, is resulting in new approaches and never before seen momentum. This momentum was illustrated by three nutrition champions recognized at the Global Gathering. Selected as part of the Transform Nutrition Consortium’s work to highlight the impact of national and local change makers, the experience of these champions exemplifies what can happen when potential and commitment come together—strong policies, reduced micronutrient deficiencies, improved support for breastfeeding.
The experience at ICN and at the Global Gathering shows how far nutrition has come in the health and development world—and how much further we can go. Potential and commitment are similar in that both are good to have—but neither result in much unless they are tied to actions. We have the evidence—let’s build on it. We have the commitment—let’s act on it. We can turn potential into real progress that can change the future of individuals and nations.