Mid-Decade of Action Review

Are we on target to reach 2030 Sustainable Development Goals in nutrition?

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / marilyna
© Getty Images / marilyna

Related tags: Sustainability, development goals

As the globe strives to reach the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development goals (SDGs) by 2030 and we enter the second half of the Decade of Action, we spoke to Lina Mahy, Technical Officer, Department of Nutrition and Food Safety at World Health Organization (WHO) on how the organization is driving nutrition progression in support of the SDGs.

We are now in the middle of the UN Decade of Action​ on nutrition. Ahead of the global 2030 goal, from 2016-2025, actions to improve nutrition and health around the world are an ongoing yet heightened priority as the effect of our progress will hugely steer whether we reach our 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The United Nations (UN) Member States developed its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development​, complete with its 17 SDGs, in a continued effort to reach and stimulate action in critical areas of importance: People, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.

Commenting on how big a part nutrition plays in achieving the 17 SDGs, WHO’s Technical Officer in the Department  Nutrition and Food Safety, Lina Mahy, highlighted how “good nutrition is fundamental to human health and for achieving sustainable development”, referring to The Lancet’s recent research exploring, A new nutrition manifesto for a new nutrition reality​. “Nutrition is both a marker and a maker of development,” Mahy added.

Drivers impacting our Decade of Action

Sharing the core drivers influencing the Decade of Action, Mahy highlighted the importance of WHO’s 13th General Programme of Work (GPW13)​, which sets out the organization’s strategic direction during 2019-2023. The GPW13 states that “SDG3 [good health and wellbeing] is central to WHO’s work, that about half the SDGs are directly implicated in the activities of the organization and that WHO’s work influences and is influenced by the remaining SDGs,” Mahy emphasized.

The GPW13 also refers to WHO’s nutrition work using the multisectoral framework of the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2)​  and the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025)​. WHO co-leads the implementation of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“As we are halfway in the Decade of Action on Nutrition, we are currently organizing the mid-term review of the Decade which is an excellent opportunity to explore linkages with other existing Decades including the Decade of Action to deliver the global goals,” Mahy explained.

Three ways to make the “enormous hill to climb” easier


To achieve mobilization, raise ambition and catalyze game-changing solutions for the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs, the “governments must lead the way” on these global goals, “working hand in hand with stakeholders from civil society, the private sector and beyond”, the UN’s Deputy Secretary-General revealed in the opening remarks of the informal briefing to the Member States on the Decade of Action published on 19th December 2019.

“Four years after the historic agreements of 2015, we are seeing growing awareness and pockets of progress but our collective efforts are not approaching the scale we need, if we are to deliver the SDGs by 2030,” explained the UN’s Deputy Secretary-General. “We have an enormous hill to climb.”

Describing the 2030 Agenda as a “universal roadmap for the world we all want and need”, the UN states that while “some remarkable engagement” has taken place, we have “not seen the deep transformative change that this Agenda requires”.

Over the next 10 years, in the area of nutrition and food safety, Mahy revealed that WHO’s work will be “guided by the agreed GPW13, which has a results indicator framework​ with 46 indicators including 5 nutrition indicators”. From WHO’s perspective, these five nutrition indicators — which dedicate specific attention to key nutrition-based issues including malnutrition, stunting and obesity rates — will contribute to the key actions, events and focus that will take place globally.

Immediate actions

To reach the world’s Sustainable Development Goals​ by 2030, efforts need to revolve around mobilizing more governments, civil society and businesses, along with encouraging people to make the global goals their own.

Although progress​ is taking place in various areas, the UN specifies that “action to meet the Goals is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required. As a result, 2020 needs to usher in a decade of ambitious action to deliver the Goals by 2030”.

Revealing the immediate actions WHO are taking to support the actualization of the SDGs, Mahy continued that “in the next 2 years we will deliver a number of nutrition and food safety global goods”. These include:

  • Guideline development on the management of acute undernutrition in infants and children
  • Evidence-informed recommendations on hemoglobin cut-offs to define anemia across the lifecycle
  • Guidelines on appropriate complementary feeding for optimal child growth and development
  • Recommendations on the management of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents
  • Guidelines on food environment, undertaking the Global Nutrition Policy Review to monitor countries’ progress
  • Publish annually the Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates, development of global nutrient profile models, revision of the WHO Foodborne Diseases Surveillance Manual, etc.

Priorities on global, local and individual levels

By placing countries at the center of its work and supporting the Member States to deliver impact, Mahy asserted that the WHO’s support includes “driving policy dialogue, strengthening health systems, providing technical assistance and in certain contexts providing service delivery.”

On a local level, Mahy stated that while there are “common drivers of the double burden of malnutrition”​, for example, and as NutraIngredient-LATAM reported, the vital importance of focusing on nutrition to improve health and save lives​: “Each country has to determine its own roadmap to address all forms of malnutrition. The menu of actions will be different in regions and countries as the social, economic and environmental context will vary in every country.”

On an individual (people) basis, Mahy refers to the New Nutrition Manifesto​ and its suggestion of the presence of “roles for different stakeholders and a call for a global nutrition movement to take the lead in demanding food systems change locally, regionally, and globally”.

“The community of nutrition stakeholders needs to be broadened: there is a role for food producers, consumer associations, meaningful engagement with young people, grassroots actors and marginalized groups,” Mahy highlighted, referring to The Lancet’s recent research.

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