This year’s World Food Day focuses on sustainable food systems for food security and nutrition. What is the relationship between food systems and nutritional outcomes?
Through various initiatives — such as the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future Initiative, the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement and the 1,000 Days Partnership — the international community has made a significant commitment to improving nutrition around the world. To meet the goals of these efforts, we need to focus not only on clinical interventions to address malnutrition, but also on safe, healthy food systems that can lead to more sustainable, scalable results.
A focus on food systems means making investments that put the right information and resources in the hands of communities and households to prevent malnutrition in a number of areas: improved dietary quality and food consumption (especially during the 1,000 days from conception to a child’s second birthday), better child-feeding practices, increased access to and availability of higher quality water and sanitation services, and healthier and more diverse agricultural production choices. Food systems should also include equity considerations, such as offering women and other economically disadvantaged groups greater opportunities to grow and earn from the production of nutritious food.
Most of the world’s population at risk of malnutrition either grows its own food or buys it in local markets. In the past, agricultural programs focused on increasing the amount of food available. We now understand that healthy food systems should also focus on the production and availability of diverse foods that provide the nutrients needed for adequate nutrition and health. This is particularly important in order to prevent malnutrition in populations most at risk — children under two and pregnant and lactating women. Issues about food safety, which emerge all along the value chain — from the choice of inputs to the processing of foods — are also crucial to consider if we are to protect consumers’ health and nutrition.