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The UN Sustainable Development Goal 1 (no poverty) and Goal 2 (zero hunger) are at the heart of the EU commitment to end hunger and malnutrition in all its forms. Furthermore, improved nutrition will help achieve at least 12 of the 17 SDGs and foster healthy, prosperous, and stable societies in which no one is left behind. Malnutrition represents a major global challenge that traps individuals and society in the vicious circle of poverty. It is a key cause of morbidity and mortality.

While nutrition is critical for human development, the world today is still affected by alarming levels of malnutrition.

  • In 2020, globally, more than 149 million children under the age of five are stunted1 , and undernutrition is considered as an underlying cause of nearly half of deaths of children under five2 .
  • In 2015, an estimated 20 million babies were born with a low birthweight3 .
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the problem, largely as a result of a historically unprecedented increase in global poverty, in turn leading to a significant increase in child malnutrition in all its forms. Therefore, despite the lack of evidence, experts anticipate that the pandemic has had a highly detrimental impact on nutrition across the globe, including a significant increase in child stunting and wasting.
  • In 2019, anaemia affected nearly 30% of women. Anaemia is now monitored by an SDG indicator (2.2.3.)5 .
  • At the same time, overweight and obesity among adults, adolescents and children is rising to record levels, affecting over 2 billion people globally6 , and is associated with an increased risk for a number of diseases, including diet-related non-communicable diseases.

The human right to food is not limited only to a sufficient quantity of food but also extends to a healthy diet7 , as both are a precondition for human development and for more just and resilient societies. However, poor-quality diets remain the leading preventable risk factor for premature deaths8 and no region in the world currently meets global recommendations for healthy diets9 . In most low- and middle-income countries, the majority of the population are unable to afford a diet that follows food-based dietary guidelines.

With the right nutrition at critical points in life, children can grow and develop to their full potential. Children growing up in poor households are more likely to suffer from undernutrition, which undermines their ability to learn and makes them more prone to disease and illness. This hinders a child’s capacity to secure decent work as an adult and to lead a fulfilling and productive life, thus perpetuating generational poverty.

Many countries are now experiencing a ‘double burden’ of at least two types of malnutrition where undernutrition and overweight and obesity coexist in individuals, households and populations, and across the life-course10. Recognising that the drivers of poor diets and malnutrition operate at several levels and across multiple sectors, it is important to invest in a locally adapted, sustained, multi-sectoral and rights-based approaches to ensure a healthy future for people and the planet. Malnutrition costs the global economy an estimated $3.5 trillion per year as a result of lost investments in human capital11, health costs and compromised labour productivity12. Investing in nutrition provides one of the best returns in global development and enables socioeconomic development13. In Africa, it is estimated that every US$ 1 invested in reducing chronic undernutrition is children yields a US$ 16 return14.

SDG 2 - Zero Hunger

EU strategic priorities

The EU has emerged as a world leader in the fight against all forms of malnutrition while specifically committing to reduce the number of children under five who are stunted by at least 7 million by 2025. As explained in the Communication on ‘Enhancing Maternal and Child Nutrition in External Assistance: An EU Policy Framework’ and in the ‘EU action plan on Nutrition’, the Commission focuses on maternal and child nutrition, and the first 1 000 days (from the day of conception), that are considered critical in preventing undernutrition and its consequences throughout adulthood. Having exceeded its financial pledge of €3.5 billion for 2014-2020, at the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit in 2021 the EU pledged an additional €2.5 billion for the period 2021-2024 to reduce all forms of malnutrition.

The EU’s desired impact/overall objective is to reduce malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition - including micronutrient deficiencies - as well as overweight and obesity) and in particular among children, adolescent girls and women of reproductive age. To achieve this objective, the immediate causes of malnutrition will need to be addressed, as reflected in the following medium-term outcomes:

  • Improved health status, in particular for children, adolescent girls and women of reproductive age.
  • Adequate dietary intake, in particular for children, adolescent girls and women of reproductive age.

While essential to alleviate suffering, the scaling up of nutrition-specific interventions alone is not sufficient to sustainably reduce malnutrition in line with international nutrition targets15. This is why the EU addresses the various determinants of malnutrition through a multi-sectoral approach, which includes sustainable food systems, public health, water and sanitation, social protection, gender inequalities and education, among others. The EU strategic priorities, as outlined in the EU Action Plan on Nutrition are:

  • to enhance mobilisation and political commitment for nutrition: increasing the commitments and governance to address under-nutrition by placing nutrition higher up on the development agenda, better integrating nutrition into sectoral priorities, and strengthening governance for nutrition both at national and international levels;
  • to scale up actions at country level: addressing the causes of maternal and child under-nutrition by improving the dietary intake and health status of children and women of reproductive age;
  • knowledge for nutrition: improving knowledge and quality of information for decisionmaking, and evidence-based national nutrition strategies and policies

Policy and Strategic Documents


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