Why Food System Transformation Is Essential and How Nutrition Scientists Can Contribute


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Abstract

Background: The International Union of Nutritional Sciences held its 21st International Congress of Nutrition in October 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina under the theme – From Sciences to Nutrition Security. In addition to multiple sessions on food systems and their links to diet, nutrition and health, the Congress closing lecture focused on the need to transform food systems so as to increase their capacity to provide healthy diets, making a call for greater involvement of nutrition scientists. Summary: This article presents the main messages of that lecture, providing (i) an overview of global nutrition trends and their links to diets, food environments and food systems, (ii) a synopsis of the current global momentum for food system transformation and (iii) the need for nutrition scientists to leverage this momentum in terms of increased evidence generation and policy advocacy. Key Messages: Poor quality diets are increasingly leading to the compromising of human health as never before; the prevalence of undernutrition persists and remains acute in vulnerable regions, and hunger is increasing concomitantly with an unprecedented rise in overweight, obesity and nutrition-related non-communicable diseases. Increasing access to healthy diets through faster, stronger implementation of supply and demand-side strategies that address the underlying drivers of today’s faulty food systems is imperative to solve these problems, as well as to address related environmental and economic costs. The global momentum for such action is increasing, but the evidence base needed to galvanize governments and hold stakeholders accountable remains yet a fledgling. To date, inputs from nutrition scientists to this reform agenda have been weak, especially given the unique contributions the field can make in terms of rigorous analysis and technical advice. Strengthened participation will require innovations in metrics and methodologies, combined with new thinking on what constitutes viable evidence and a greater willingness to engage with private sector agri-food actors.

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