Nutrition — at the heart of good health

Cordelia Salter
The Committee on World Food Security
4 min readApr 7, 2019


Eradicating malnutrition in all its forms for a healthier world

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

One of the world’s biggest challenges today is malnutrition. That can mean undernutrition (not enough food), micronutrient deficiencies (not enough nutritious food) or overweight and obesity (too much food). Every country in the world suffers from at least one of these forms of malnutrition and some countries are affected by many, if not all of them.

You are what you eat — or don’t eat

All forms of malnutrition have an impact on people’s health and wellbeing. They affect livelihoods and impact one generation to the next. They increase the likelihood of children under five dying, and, if they survive, their school performance, productivity and life opportunities because they are more likely to suffer from chronic and non-communicable diseases. Globally an unhealthy diet is now one of the top risk factors for premature death and disability. Eating a safe and healthy diet is fundamental to reversing this negative trend.

From farm to fork — we rely on food systems

Our food comes to us through food systems. Food systems include all the planting, growing, processing, transport, selling and consumption of food. They also include the governance and economics of food production. At the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in 2014 the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) described the global food system as “broken”. Millions of people aren’t getting enough to eat and millions of others are eating too much of the wrong food. Many families can’t afford enough nutritious food like fruit, vegetables, beans, and milk, while food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt are cheap and readily available.

How can food systems be fixed?

That’s the question that the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is asking. CFS is the leading intergovernmental multistakeholder platform that develops policy recommendations and guidance on food security and nutrition. The starting point for CFS policy guidance is science and evidence-based reports produced by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE). In 2017 the HLPE published a report on Nutrition and Food Systems that looked at many aspects of our food systems including their drivers, what actions can be taken to improve them and what can be done to turn evidence into action.

Policies to fix food systems

Promoting policy change is key to reshaping and promoting sustainable food systems so that they improve nutrition and enable healthy diets. CFS is leading a policy process that is anticipated to result in Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition. Regional and online consultations are being held this year and include the different players involved — governments, intergovernmental and regional organizations, civil society organizations, the private sector, research organizations and universities, development agencies, international financial institutions and philanthropic foundations. The consultations will be held to make sure that regional perspectives and priorities are taken into account.

The main drivers

The focus of the CFS policy guidance will be on how food systems can help deliver high quality diets that meet the needs of growing populations while also paying special attention to the poorest and most vulnerable, and addressing the barriers they face in accessing healthy diets. The five main drivers that will be taken into account are:

1. Biophysical and environmental (natural resource and ecosystem services, climate change);

2. Innovation, technology and infrastructure;

3. Political and economic (leadership, globalization, foreign investment, trade, food policies, land tenure, food prices and volatility, conflicts and humanitarian crises);

4. Socio-cultural (culture, religion, rituals, social traditions, gender inequalities and women’s Empowerment);

5. Demographics (population growth, changing age distribution, urbanization, migration and forced displacement).

Ending malnutrition

The CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition come at a time when nutrition is high on the global agenda with many different sectors taking action to address malnutrition in all its forms. They will provide policy guidance to help countries achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 “…end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” as well as supporting many other SDGs. Working together we can fix food systems and end malnutrition.

Get involved

If you are interested in following the CFS consultations on the Voluntary Guidelines for Food Systems and Nutrition, you can find the background information on the CFS Working Space.


FAO/WHO. 2014. Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2)

Future of Food: The Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food

HLPE. 2017. Nutrition and Food Systems. A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome.

Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. 2016. Food systems and diets: Facing the challenges of the 21st century.