Since 2010, the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement has inspired a new way of working collaboratively to end malnutrition–in all its forms. And yet, 1000 days into the SDG era, no high-income country has become a member of the SUN Movement. Why does this matter?
First, all countries experience high levels of malnutrition in at least one of its many manifestations. For example, according to the 2017 Global Nutrition Report, the UK has obesity rates of 27%, Germany has raised blood cholesterol rates of 70%, 28% of French men have high blood pressure and, according to the 2018 World Cancer Research Fund Report, Japan has colorectal cancer rates of 39 per 100,000 — one of the highest in the world. And in nearly all high-income countries poor nutrition is related to 5 of the top 10 risk factors in national disease burdens. By joining SUN the high-income countries can learn from other members, share experiences of what is effective in reducing these expressions of malnutrition, and work together with other members to develop new solutions to address them.
Second, many high-income country governments do not achieve the same level of coherence across government departments in fighting malnutrition that their aid programs expect from low and middle income countries. Which European country has a whole of government approach to obesity, one that brings together urban planners, agriculture, health, education, transport and trade? I can’t think of one. Joining SUN will help high-income countries achieve greater coherence in their battle against malnutrition.
Third, nutrition affects global public goods. For example, what the high-income countries grow and eat affects the poorest in the most climate-affected countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and many of the nations of Africa. The high-income countries have a responsibility to fix the enormous externality that their food production and consumption choices generate for those least able to adapt to climate change. Becoming a member of SUN will empower civil society within high-income countries to champion more climate smart agriculture and consumption and guide policymakers to more win-win solutions for people and the planet.
Finally, the enrollment of high-income countries embodies the highest principles of the SDGs. The SDGs are for all countries and all people. As this century progresses we will increasingly be left with the more complex problems, and they will be the ones that affect all countries and will require a degree of cooperation not seen today if they are to be tamed. We are talking about climate mitigation, conflict prevention, insurance against financial crises, the prevention of infectious disease pandemics — and the lowering of nutrition related non- communicable diseases.
The SDGs reject the assumption that the low and middle-income countries have a monopoly on nutrition problems and the high-income countries have a monopoly on nutrition solutions. It is time that high-income country governments realise this and join SUN. Citizens of the world–whether from high, middle or low-income countries–deserve no less.
Lawrence is a member of the SUN Executive Committee but this view is personal and does not necessarily represent the view of the Committee.