The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced a commitment of $922 million over the next five years to address global nutrition and advance its mission that all women and children have the nutrition they need to live healthy and productive lives. The pledge, delivered at the first-ever United Nations Food Systems Summit, is the foundation’s largest nutrition commitment to date.
“Nutrition is fundamental to better health, and to an equitable COVID recovery. Yet both malnutrition rates and aid levels are moving in the wrong direction,” said Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation. “This funding will help more people around the world get the nutrition they need to live a healthy life, and we hope it serves as an invitation for more donors, foundations, governments, and private-sector leaders to build on today’s investment with more bold commitments.”
“We will continue to prioritize and invest in nutrition because it is critical to reducing preventable deaths, improving maternal and child health and building resilience for the future,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation. “While malnutrition accounts for nearly half of all child deaths, it still receives less than one percent of foreign aid—a trend that must change.”
World hunger spiked in 2020, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent data estimates that around one-tenth of the global population, or 811 million people, were undernourished last year, and 3 billion people lacked access to healthy diets, largely due to lack of affordability. Undernutrition remains the underlying cause of nearly half of all child deaths, and the world is currently not on track to achieve targets for any nutrition indicators by 2030.
The estimated cost of malnutrition on the global economy could be as high as US $3.5 trillion per year, yet global nutrition continues to be an underinvested area of health and development, accounting for less than 1% of global foreign aid. National budget allocations in high-burden countries are similarly low. Yet, addressing malnutrition is one of the smartest investments governments and donors can make in the health and economic prosperity of people and nations, with every $1 invested in nutrition returning $16 back into the local economy.
The $922 million commitment over the next five years will advance the foundation’s systems approach, prioritizing efforts across food, health, and social protection systems to reach the most vulnerable. The foundation will continue to invest in proven approaches to improve nutrition for the world’s most vulnerable, including a focus on the 1,000-day window of opportunity—from conception through age 2. Nutrition is now prioritized through four key foundation portfolios:
- Fortifying commonly consumed foods with vitamins and minerals: Food fortification—adding safe levels of essential vitamins and minerals to commonly consumed foods such as salt, flour, and cooking oil—is one of the most scalable, sustainable, and cost-effective ways to reduce malnutrition worldwide, but it has yet to reach its full potential. The foundation will deepen its engagement in large-scale food fortification by investing in solutions to produce actionable data; delivering high-quality technical support to millers and food producers; achieving innovations in the types and level of vitamins and minerals that can be delivered through staple foods; increasing industry self-monitoring and transparency; and promoting the adoption of more and better standards for large-scale food fortification.
- Nutritious food systems: This portfolio aims to increase equitable consumption of safe, affordable, nutritious diets year-round through evidence-driven food systems and agricultural programs and policies. Priority areas include increasing availability and use of dietary data for program design and evaluation; improving evidence for how agricultural programs can positively impact nutrition; providing technical assistance for the design and implementation of evidence-driven and gender-responsive food systems programs and policies; and improving food safety.
- Maternal, infant, and young child nutrition: Poor maternal nutrition is a major driver of maternal mortality and newborn and infant mortality and is a historically underfunded area. This portfolio explores how to provide the right nutritional support to the most vulnerable populations, including pregnant and lactating women, infants, and young children who are malnourished. This involves developing evidence on how to deliver high-impact interventions and new innovations through health services, social protection systems, and community-based platforms.
- Research and innovation to identify new approaches and interventions: This portfolio focuses on research and product development to identify solutions to optimize maternal health and nutrition and support the physical growth and neurodevelopment of young children. Priority areas include developing new approaches to anemia prevention and treatment and research to inform next-generation nutritional products during pregnancy and lactation, such as multiple micronutrient supplements (MMS) and balanced energy and protein (BEP) supplementation.
Together, these strategies aim to address the unique role that health, food, and social protection systems can play in delivering both the food and the care that people need to live healthy and productive lives.
Accelerated investments in nutrition, food systems, and health systems must be a pillar of both the immediate and longer-term phases of the COVID-19 response. Recent impact modeling data predicts that without immediate action, there will be an additional 283,000 malnutrition-related deaths in children under 5 over the next three years, and 13.6 million more children under 5 will be wasted (underweight for their height) over the same period. As a result, we stand to lose a decade or more of progress on nutrition.
“With just nine years left to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, good nutrition is a driver of every global goal,” said Chris Elias, president of the Global Delivery Division at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “That’s why improved nutrition has always been a goal of our foundation and will continue to be.”
The UN Food Systems Summit and the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit are working collaboratively to advance solutions across systems with mutual recognition that malnutrition in all its forms is one of the biggest challenges we face to ensuring optimal health, resilience, and prosperity for all. N4G mobilization efforts have generated unprecedented and impactful commitments to improve global nutrition, but billions more are needed to put the world on track to meet global goals.