A nutritious diet is pivotal for good health. It supports growth, education, productivity, and wellness, and it reduces the risk of diseases like diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Food banks strive to meet the nutrition needs in their communities by diversifying the nutritious products they distribute, promoting healthy dietary choices through nutrition education, and adhering to the highest food safety standards.
We sat down with Robyn Bright, director of global advocacy at Nutrition International, to discuss the concept of nutrition security, why is it important to food systems, and how food banks can support the nutritional needs of their communities. Bright has been with Nutrition International for 10 years, and says, “Advocating for improved nutrition never gets old, because it is so critical to driving progress in social development and the end of poverty.”
Robyn Bright: Nutrition International’s work contributes to improved nutrition in more than 60 countries worldwide. We strive to act as a bridge between evidence and action. What we mean by that is we come alongside governments to help them understand their own nutrition contexts, and how to implement evidence-based nutrition actions to reach the unique needs of their populations.
We’re working to make sure that those who are most vulnerable to malnutrition – women, adolescent girls, and children, can access the right nutrition at the right time, no matter where they live.
In [my role and] our team’s work, we try to paint a clear picture of the very real and time-sensitive needs of women and children, for good nutrition. We also work to call out the “missed opportunities” that exist to improve nutrition through programs and services that target the same populations. With very limited development resources to go around, we must find ways to maximize existing platforms, and put women and girls at the center of program design. We have been encouraged by the shift we are seeing within the broader development community to take the perspectives, rhythms, and routines into account in program design, and to make programs really work for those they are meant to serve.
When we look at the outcomes for newborns who haven’t received proper nutrition, nearly every risk to surviving and thriving goes up including low birth weight, stunting, wasting, anemia, and stillbirths. Good nutrition is a foundational component for child survival. And good nutrition during pregnancy isn’t just about the child. Twenty percent of maternal deaths are linked to severe anemia, so it’s a significant issue if women aren’t well nourished during their pregnancies.
As far as children, there are more young people alive in the world today than ever before. Good nutrition is key to unlocking their futures and realizing their full potential. Right now, malnutrition in the form of anemia is the leading cause of disability for adolescent girls. It is holding girls back from achieving all they can in school, interfering with their final phase of growth, and reducing their capacity to focus and concentrate. That’s why inaction on adolescent nutrition has been called a hidden crisis by leading policymakers.
The intersecting crises of COVID-19, conflict, cost-of-living, and climate change have made adolescents particularly vulnerable. We need to make adolescent nutrition a global priority, and ensure every adolescent, whether in school or out, is supported, in terms of their nutritional needs.
Food security is really looking at ensuring consistent access to safe, affordable, and nutritious food, and so there are certainly links to nutrition security. But nutrition security is also about ensuring access to the right nutrition at the right time, and supplementing food-based vitamins and minerals with fortification and supplements when food alone will not deliver adequate nutrition. When we look at global crises today, we remain concerned that for people facing hunger, we not only feed bellies, but fuel continued growth and development with good nutrition. So, nutrition security is about focusing on the nutrition piece and blending both food and nonfood responses when thinking about nutritional needs in a community.
Food banks play a critical role as part of the frontline response to nutrition insecurities, through direct interactions with their communities. You have this unique interface with communities, that you can leverage not only to provide healthy foods, but also nutrition counseling or nutrition education with families and pregnant mothers. Food banks are part of the broader global infrastructure for social protection, and social protection services can be a great referral point to other services including, referrals for OBGYN and other pregnancy services, early childhood education services, and so many more provided by the community.
We have been proud to collaborate with the Ottawa Food Bank, which is part of the Food Banks Canada network, a GFN member organization in Canada. I believe that organizations like ours can and should be collaborating with the food banking community as we work to advance this overall agenda and make good nutrition available for the women and children and families that we’re trying to serve.