Valuing Nutrition

 

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“It would be easy to give the public information and hope they change behavior, but we know that doesn’t work very satisfactorily. [If it did] none of us would be obese, none of us would smoke and none of us would drive like lunatics.”
– Ian Potter, Director New Zealand Health Sponsorship Council

Why do we choose the foods that most commonly make it to our tables? Are they the cheapest options? The tastiest? The easiest to grow? Are they perhaps infused with nostalgia or promoted by an irresistible advertising campaign? Not surprisingly, a multitude of factors are at play, although their hierarchy is naturally affected by a person’s buying power and economic status.

Consider, for example, the habits of consumers considered to be Bottom of Pyramid (BoP). Fully two-thirds of the world’s population fall into this category, many living in the Global South’s rapidly emerging economies. Some of these booming communities continue to struggle with malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, even as their buying power increases. It turns out that increased availability of nutritious foods by itself will not generate change on the scale necessary to meet national and global commitments related to hunger and malnutrition. Interestingly, it has been demonstrated that BoP consumers are ready to pay more for nutritious products if they deem them to be valuable. For example, mothers will want to give their children the best food they can afford, selecting something they perceive as higher quality, not necessarily the cheapest product on the shelf. [i]

Understanding the consumer

Encouraging a shift towards nutritious, safe, and tasty and affordable foods in the developing world will require social marketing campaigns to generate demand for these diets by shaping the consumer’s understanding of what is valuable. How can we best support efforts to empower consumers to make healthy choices?

Sight and Life has studied the ways alternative protein brands have chosen to engage with their consumers in High-Income Countries. Two American companies, for example, appealed to certain narrative “archetypes” – The Hero and The Innocent – providing the brands a more human feel and allowing their consumers to identify either as a climate change fighting Hero, or as a person free from any societal guilt, ie. an Innocent. (You can read more on this study here). But would these archetypes speak to BoP consumers in the Global South? Can we alter the manifestations of such archetypes such that they resonate with low-and-middle-income consumers? Can the sense of purpose be made more personal and placed within the Global South consumer’s needs?

An innovative solution

Such an avenue of exploration can be undertaken by Sight and Life’s new initiative, Food Systems Innovation Hubs. The factors that drive demand for nutritious foods in the Global South are convenience, affordability, and aspirational value. The Innovation Hubs – located in places such as Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Rwanda – will address all three factors by engaging in downstream activities such as running market surveys and consumer campaigns, lowering distribution costs through common logistics, shaping industrial policy towards nutrition, and creating an enabling environment through regulatory and marketing support. Most importantly, these hubs will focus on discerning and amplifying the values and priorities of the communities it serves, ultimately helping them choose healthy, nutritious diets.

To learn more about the Food Systems Innovation Hubs by joining us on February 2 for a webinar or reading the blog series HERE.

 

References

[i] “Marketing Nutrition for the Base of the Pyramid”, Report by Hystra – Hybrid Strategies Consulting, April 2014

A Double Burden on our Emerging Economies

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Malnutrition, in all its forms, including undernutrition (wasting, stunting, underweight), micronutrient deficiencies, overweight, obesity, and resulting diet-related noncommunicable diseases, is the leading cause of poor health globally[i]. The double burden of malnutrition is characterized by the coexistence of undernutrition along with overweight and obesity, or diet-related noncommunicable diseases within individuals, households, and populations and across the life course.

Cause for concern

The obesity epidemic has received much attention in recent decades, particularly in high-income countries, and with good reason. According to the World Health Organization, 39% of the world’s adult population is overweight, with 650 million of these adults being obese. An estimated 38.2 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2019[ii]. Obesity brings with it a myriad of health challenges such as the increased risk for type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer,[iii] and increased risk of severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19[iv]. This puts tremendous pressure on individuals and health systems.

A parallel epidemic plaguing large swaths of the globe has been undernutrition. While we have seen some positive changes with a relative reduction in undernutrition of 19% from 1991 to 2017 and the prevalence of hunger fallen from 14.8 percent in 2000 to 10.8 percent in 2018, progress remains slow. Eight hundred and twenty million people are undernourished, and 9% of the world’s population are food insecure[v].

Unfairly, these two epidemics have collided in low- and middle-income countries, giving rise to a problem known as the Double Burden of Malnutrition. These two forms of malnutrition – over and under – can coexist within countries and communities (for example, where there is a prevalence of both undernutrition and overweight in the same community), within households (when a mother may be overweight or anemic and a child or grandparent is underweight), and even within the same person over their lifetime (obesity with deficiency of one or various vitamins and minerals, or an overweight adult who was stunted during childhood). Sadly, this has become the new norm in many parts of the world that have had to continue tackling undernutrition while finding themselves increasingly challenged to fight growing rates of obesity.

These countries cannot afford to ignore the potential of unhealthy diets. A food system that is efficient in delivering healthy food to all at an affordable price, in all situations, is required. High-income countries have seen the cost and consequences of not recognizing this sooner. Current estimates suggest that malnutrition costs the global economy US$3.5 trillion a year – 11% of the world’s GDP.[vi]

Although the double burden remains a largely untapped area for integrated policy action, there are opportunities to act. It presents a unique opportunity for mutual learning and collaboration between the Global North and Global South, as every country in the world is affected by one or more forms of malnutrition.

A way forward

This sparked an idea within the Sight and Life team – The Food Systems Innovation Hub, a place poised to deliver just such a point of collaboration. Designed to accelerate technology transfer and targeted investment in emerging economies such as Nigeria, Rwanda, and Bangladesh, they will provide a mechanism for sharing techniques and knowledge to tackle this double burden. This may take the form of social marketing campaigns to generate demand for more nutritious foods or of even more ambitious measures like aggregating the output of a local crop (teff in Ethiopia, for example) to make it more affordable and nutritious by fortifying it with vitamins and minerals.

We have a long way to go to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the UN, but I am confident that these Innovation Hubs will be a step in the right direction. Sight and Life invites you to join us in this new, bold initiative and learn how you can become involved. 

Read more on the Food Systems Innovation Hubs HERE and watch the Foods Systems Innovation Hub webinar to find out more. Learn more about the Double Burden of Malnutrition in the 2018 issue of Sight and Life Magazine.

References

[i] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/malnutrition (accessed 7 January 2021).
[ii]https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight#:~:text=Some%20recent%20WHO%20global%20estimates,%25%20of%20women)%20were%20overweight (accessed 7 January 2021).
[iii]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44656/#:~:text=The%20prevalence%20of%20obesity%20changed,children%20during%20the%20same%20period. (accessed 7 January 2021).
[iv] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html (accessed 7 January 2021).
[v] https://ourworldindata.org/hunger-and-undernourishment (accessed 7 January 2021).
[vi] www.nutraingredients.com/Article/2014/11/14/Malnutrition-costs-11-of-world-sGDPGlobal-Nutrition-Report (accessed 29 October 2018).

Innovation for Transformation

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The Covid-19 pandemic has served as a collective reminder that our well-being is delicately intertwined with that of our neighbor. During this crisis, we have also seen that the transfer of data, information, know-how, and resources across borders has been crucial in accelerating our capacity for mitigation. By sharing new treatment strategies, developing safe and effective vaccines, and distributing PPE to those who need it most we have come together in a global, coordinated effort. This has been remarkable and heartening to witness.

“It is unacceptable that hunger is on the rise at a time when the world wastes more than 1 billion tonnes of food every year. It is time to change how we produce and consume, including to reduce greenhouse emissions. Transforming food systems is crucial for delivering all the Sustainable Development Goals. As a human family, a world free of hunger is our imperative.” UN Secretary-General António Guterres 
Here at Sight and Life, we care deeply about the health and wellbeing of our fellow world citizens and have been working to improve access to quality nutrition globally since our inception during the famine in the Horn of Africa in the mid-1980s. Through our work at the foundation, we have seen firsthand the immense impact scientific evidence, technology transfer, and targeted investment can have on food systems.

Innovate for nutrition

Take the egg, for example. Eggs are nutrient-dense animal source foods and have been shown to reduce stunting in young children. But eggs are expensive and scarce in most low and middle-income countries (LMIC). In Malawi, smallholder farmer groups have increased their income and produce more and more affordable eggs with the support of an Egg Hub, a centralized unit that provides inputs, technical assistance, credit, and market access (learn more by visiting egghub.org).
 
Unfortunately, an immense gulf still exists that we cannot continue to ignore. In LMIC the effects of malnutrition and climate change become progressively dire. Most high productivity technologies that can help mitigate these shocks rest with organizations in high-income countries (HIC) that benefit from large consumer markets and large pools of venture capital to test and try innovations to make food systems nutritious and sustainable. These innovations are vital to boosting the nature-positive production of agricultural goods while preserving and advancing equitable livelihoods.

At the same time, in rapidly emerging consumer markets in the global south, such as India and Nigeria, the effects of malnutrition and climate change remain devastating. Malnutrition in young children is a life-sentence not only for that child but also for the community and country in which they live and grow. A stunted child may never catch up to his or her peers and will therefore fail to thrive and lead a dignified life, as every child should have the right to do.

Collaboration is key

Sight and Life is determined to change all of this. That is why we are launching a new initiative – Food Systems Innovation Hubs.

We will work to establish hubs in rapidly emerging consumer markets, such as India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Kenya to stimulate investment in resilient and responsive food systems, as well as facilitate relevant technology transfer and know-how from HIC to LMIC. Through partnerships, government collaboration, impact investors, and philanthropies in the context of local entrepreneurs, these hubs will catalyze a transformative change for society-wide dietary shifts towards more efficient, healthier, and more environmentally friendly food systems.

Get involved

I invite you to join us in this coordinated effort to improve the world’s food systems and to reach out to learn how you can become involved. I know that we can work together to solve this global problem of peoples’ and planetary health. To learn more,  about Food Systems Innovation Hubs watch the recent Food Systems Innovation Hub webinar discussing the importance of innovation and nutrition for global health. To connect with us, please email info@sightandlife.org.