The Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health Nexus

13-14 August 2018, Canberra

Dr Jessica Fanzo

Jessica serves as the Senior Nutrition and Food Systems Officer in the Nutrition and Food Systems Division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. While at the UN, Jessica is taking a two-year leave of absence from her Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professorship of Global Food and Agriculture Policy and Ethics at the Johns Hopkins University. She also serves as the Director of the Global Food Ethics and Policy Program at Hopkins. She is the Co-Chair of the Global Nutrition Report and was the team leader for the UN High-Level Panel of Experts report on Food Systems and Nutrition. Before joining Johns Hopkins, Jessica has held positions in the UN World Food Programme, Bioversity International, the Earth Institute of Columbia University, and the Millennium Development Goal Centre at the World Agroforestry Center in Kenya. Jessica has a PhD in nutrition from the University of Arizona.

Challenges and impacts of poor nutrition


Never has there been a more urgent time to ensure that everyone has optimal nutrition. However, globally, that has not been realized. While some indicators of global health are improving, nutrition is not. Undernutrition is decreasing but way too slow. Overweight and obesity is rising, rapidly. What we are left with is a massive, complex burden of multiple malnutrition outcomes, as a result of multiple drivers and causes. The consequences are staggering not only for the health and wellbeing of individuals, but economically, socially and environmentally costly for society.

Twenty 22 percent, or 150 million, children under the age of five are chronically undernourished, or stunted. Fifty million children are wasted or acutely malnourished with high risk of morality, and on the opposite side, 38 million children are overweight. At this rate, global progress to reduce these forms of malnutrition is not rapid enough to meet internationally agreed global targets.

Adult overweight and obesity prevalence is shocking. Over 2 billion people are overweight and obese and that number is rising in all countries from low to high-income classifications. Obesity is a significant risk factor of diet-related non-communicable diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Many countries are grappling with multiple burdens of malnutrition.

What actions do we need to take to address this massive burden and who should act? We have known for a long time that nutrition takes many sectors and disciplines to eradicate the multiple burdens. There is nothing new to this. However, what is new, is about how we can we deliver on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – the SDGs — which calls on the world to approach development differently, through shared action. That is, to see development across the goals as part of an integrated whole and that each goal is essential for what we, as global citizens, would agree is a better more equitable world. It is not just about what other sectors can do for us in the nutrition community to deliver our goals, but what we can do for them in delivering their goals.

Food systems allow many points for intervention to improve nutrition – across the supply chain, within food environments and related to consumer behavior. However, food systems are not static. They are rapidly transforming due to multiple drivers, including global dietary pattern shifts. With globalization, urbanization and income growth, people are experiencing new food environments, expanding their food choices and diversifying their dietary patterns in both positive and negative directions.

Current food systems have dramatic effects on human and planetary health. They shape producers’ decisions and consumers’ food choices. Nevertheless, human decisions and choices (whether individual or collective) regarding production and consumption can also influence food systems and improve their ability to deliver healthy and sustainable diets. The global community should embrace the SDGs as interlinked and address simultaneously all forms of malnutrition. This will require everyone who interacts with food systems and the food security mandate to act. Food supply chain and food environment actors, whether small or large, need to be valued and supported to shift towards nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems.