Children and young people must be at the heart of food systems transformation

World Health Organization

Joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for the Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems

NEW YORK/GENEVA|27 July 2021: The Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems is an opportunity to set the agenda for how we will boldly and collectively strengthen food systems, promote healthy diets, and improve nutrition, especially for children and young people.

Even before the pandemic, children were bearing the brunt of broken food systems and poor diets, leading to an alarming nutrition and health crisis worldwide, and a triple burden of malnutrition: undernutrition, in the form of stunting and wasting, widespread micronutrient deficiencies, and a growing prevalence of overweight and obesity.

Globally, 1 in 3 children is not growing well due to malnutrition – a leading cause of child mortality worldwide – while 2 in 3 don’t have access to the minimum diverse diets they need to grow, develop and learn. We continue to see stubbornly high rates of wasting and a worrying increase in overweight and obesity among young children.

In recent decades, changes in our global food systems – including the practices used to grow, distribute, market, consume, and dispose of our food – meaning that the most nutritious and safe foods are too costly or inaccessible to millions of families. Many increasingly turn to processed foods that are affordable, widely available, and aggressively marketed, but often high in unhealthy sugar, fats and salt.

A toxic combination of rising poverty, inequality, conflict, climate change, and COVID-19 is further threatening food systems and children’s nutritional well-being, especially those from the poorest and most vulnerable communities and households.

A transformation of the food system that listens to the voices of children and young people, and unlocks nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets for every child, everywhere, must be at the heart of strategies, policies and investments. UNICEF and WHO call on governments and decision-makers to scale up effective approaches that include:

Incentivizing healthy diets through price policies, including subsidies to reduce the price of nutritious foods such as eggs, dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, or taxes to increase the price of unhealthy options.

Improving the nutritional quality of food through mandatory fortification of staple foods with essential micronutrients, the reduction of sodium and sugar, and the elimination of industrially-produced trans fats in processed foods.

Using public procurement of food as a lever to promote healthy diets and drive sustainable food systems, for example through schools, workplaces, hospitals, and social protection programmes.

Protecting children from the harmful impacts of marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages through strengthened regulatory measures and better enforcement.

Protecting and supporting mothers and caregivers to optimally breastfeed their babies, including maternal protection and parental leave, and the implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

Putting in place mandatory, easy-to-understand nutrition labelling policies and practices to help children and families make healthier choices with the right information.

Supporting healthy feeding and dietary practices through the food, health, education, and social protection systems with easy to understand, coherent and memorable communication strategies.

Only then will we improve the quality, safety and affordability of the foods that children and young people have access to; the environments in which they grow, learn, play and eat, and the sustainability of the planet they live in.

By joining forces with governments, civil society, families, development and humanitarian partners, private sector stakeholders, and children and young people themselves, we can uphold our promise to deliver good nutrition and a healthier planet for every child and every adult, everywhere.

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