Balancing Vision and Pragmatism – World Nutrition Rio2012 Congress
A number of academics, policy makers, and practitioners from around the world gathered under the aegis of the World Public Health Nutrition Association (WPHNA) and the Brazilian Association of Collective Health (ABRASCO) at the World Nutrition Rio2012 Congress from April 27 – 30, 2012. And no; it was not location alone (Rio de Janeiro) responsible for attracting participants… The tripartite theme of the Congress, namely Knowledge, Policy, and Action, was enough to galvanize massive participation.
Rio2012 aimed to address the basic and underlying determinants of food systems and dietary patterns, and thus of disease, health, and well-being, as well as their immediate causes. Participants were encouraged to approach nutrition questions in the context of interlinked social, economic, political, environmental, and biological challenges.
Keynote speakers articulated those public health nutrition challenges in the 21st century. They identified malnutrition and obesity as the two extreme manifestations of the same issue: ensuring adequate and nutritious food intake. Lack or excess of food is only one cause, however. Causes are many, and much more complicated: lack of knowledge, action, and policy, together with lack of education, capacity, and financial resources on the basis of social and economic inequities are largely responsible for these two public health manifestations.
The current social and economic policies are in need of drastic change if we are to address both under- and over-nutrition. Attention was drawn to the fact that we need to understand and work with changing contextual and conceptual frameworks. For a start, we have progressed from talking of the 2008 and 2010 food prices crises to talking about systemic crises comprising the food system, economy, energy, and the environment.
But now that the grave challenges have been articulated, what can be done about them? As the causes of malnutrition are all interlinked and systemic, the solutions will have to share the same characteristics, too. General guidelines were given at the Congress, and a couple of them are mentioned below:
Seeking political support: Political willingness is key to addressing social and economic inequity. Going beyond ministries of health to other levels of power can help galvanize support for nutrition. Overcoming institutional silos becomes thus a necessary precondition for operating in changing frameworks, and for implementing a multisectoral approach.
Aligning firmly nutrition goals with broader policy goals: Nutrition goals exceed the health sector, and can be rightly considered as a national investment. As such, efforts should be made to include nutrition in national policy and poverty alleviation programs.
A combination of top down macropolicies and bottom up micropolicies is necessary, though, so engaging civil society emerged as another guideline. Apart from securing top political support, civil society needs to participate in the debate, making thus the voice of those most vulnerable and least represented also heard.
Noble and compelling as these guidelines are, though, they offer little advice on how to actually create the incentives for such multisectoral collaboration or high level political support. What seems to be missing is a space for creating meaningful opportunities for dialogue across sectors, and for an understanding of actors, processes, and systems.
Our role here at SecureNutrition is to provide the space for at least some of these different perspectives to be shared, and for solutions to be sought. The transformational objective of the knowledge platform is to foster collaboration across sectors in development partners, academia, foundations, think tanks, and the private sector in providing a comprehensive understanding of what needs to be done at different points of the value chain, and health inputs to ensure adequate nutrition outcomes.
We hope that many of you can join us!
Photo: Scott Wallace / World Bank