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OPINION: The Role of the Media and Visibility for Malnutrition Around the World

In this column, Mario Lubetkin, Director of Corporate Communications at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), writes that the Second International Conference on Nutrition received widespread media coverage around the world and that they continue to have an important role to play in ensuring that medium- and short-term nutrition challenges are met.

ROME, Dec 10 2014 (IPS) - The vast international and national media impact of the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), held in Rome from Nov. 19 to 21, demonstrated the growing interest that nutritional problems are arousing worldwide, primarily because the media themselves are increasingly reporting issues related to poverty and exclusion.

Thousands of articles in leading newspapers from different countries of the world, numerous television reports and substantial social media activity focused on ICN2, jointly held by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), 22 years after the first international nutrition conference, also in Rome.

Global representation was ensured through participation by more than 100 ministers and deputy ministers as the leading actors responsible for nutrition-related matters in their respective countries.

Mario Lubetkin

Mario Lubetkin

With a policy document and a framework for action containing over 60 points, adopted by consensus and applicable at national and international levels, this conference completed one phase and launched another whose results will be seen in the years to come.

Unlike other international meetings of this nature, this time the media highlighted the interventions of keynote speakers and the final documents, but more importantly continued to publish information and thought pieces on nutrition for some weeks following the conference.

Nutrition has achieved visibility as an issue on the global news agenda, primarily because of its serious social ramifications in developing and developed countries alike.

Countless experts brought to the fore the inherent existing contradiction of having 800 million people suffering from hunger (albeit 200 million fewer than 20 years ago), while 500 million adults are suffering from obesity. The seriousness of the situation is compounded by the fact that the number of the latter is still rising and is resulting in serious health risks for the population at large.

“Nutrition has achieved visibility as an issue on the global news agenda, primarily because of its serious social ramifications in developing and developed countries alike”

Suffice it to say that 42 million children are overweight, while malnutrition is the underlying cause of 45 percent of infant mortality.

Statistics indicate that unhealthy diets and lack of exercise are the cause of 10 percent of deaths and permanent disability cases.

Over two billion people, or approximately one-third of all humanity, suffer from micro-nutrient deficiencies.

The problem among children under five years of age is particularly distressing because 51 million suffer from wasting, or low weight for height, which in turn results in higher mortality from infectious diseases. Moreover, 161 million children in that particular age group also suffer from growth retardation.

Malnutrition also has high economic costs. Recent studies have indicated that malnutrition hunger, micro-nutrient deficiency and obesity result in annual costs of between 2.8 and 3.5 trillion dollars, or 4-5 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP). The per capita cost is estimated to be 400-500 dollars per year.

In his speech during the International Conference on Nutrition, Pope Francis said that “when solidarity is lacking in one country, it is felt around the world.”

Despite there being enough food for everyone, food issues are subject to manipulated information, corruption, claims regarding national security, or “teary-eyed evocations of economic crisis”, the Pontiff said. “That is the first challenge we need to overcome”, he asserted as he called for the rights of all human beings to be uppermost in all development assistance programmes.

The Pope also stressed the need to respect the environment and protect the planet. “Humans may forgive, but nature does not”, he argued, adding that “we must take care of Mother Nature, so that she does not respond with destruction”. In this way, he linked the debates on nutrition with the ongoing International Conference on Climate Change in Lima, Peru (Dec. 1-12).

However, despite the breadth of international coverage, it is noteworthy that the leading media did not fully analyse the conference’s Framework for Action, which essentially sets the course for gradual resolution of nutrition’s major challenges.

The Framework for Action proposes the enhancement of political commitments, promotion of national nutrition plans incorporating the different food security and nutrition stakeholders, an increase in responsible investment, the fostering of inter-country collaboration, whether it be North-South or South-South, and the strengthening of nutrition governance.

The Framework also recommends measures to achieve sustainable food systems, revise national policies and investments, promote crop diversification, upgrade technology, develop and adopt international guidelines on healthy diets, and encourage gradual reductions in consumption of saturated fats, sugar, salt or sodium.

The chapter on communications suggests the conduct of social marketing campaigns and lifestyle-change communication programmes promoting physical activity, dietary diversification, consumption of micronutrient-rich food products to include traditional local foods, and taking account of cultural factors.

Although the principal responsibility for implementing the Framework for Action rests with governments and parliaments, non-State actors such as civil society and the private sector have an important role to play by joining forces in ensuring that the proposals are put into action.

Throughout this process, the media have a crucial oversight role in ensuring that the challenges and proposed solutions identified by the Second International Conference on Nutrition become reality in the short and medium terms. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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