The fight against malnutrition: a major challenge for sustainable development


Malnutrition, in all its forms, is a global issue for every country in the world. According to recent international reports, in 2019 one out of three adults in the world were obese or overweight ; 22% (144 million) of children under five suffered from chronic malnutrition, 7% from severe malnutrition and nearly 6% were overweight.

Adequate nutrition is vital to individuals’ good health and to social and economic development of communities and nations. Reducing malnutrition is particularly effective in saving lives and can contribute to increasing the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita by up to 11 points. According to the African Development Bank, not resolving malnutrition problems could cost between 1.9% et 16.5% of the GDP of African countries).

Malnutrition perpetuates a cycle of poverty and inequalities. Individuals suffering from malnutrition in their childhood have learning disabilities, more health problems throughout their lives, lower income when they are adults and malnourished children. At the core of multiple problems, the fight against malnutrition is essential to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

What exactly is malnutrition ?

Malnutrition is a consequence of poor quality or insufficient quantity of nutrient intake or the body’s poor absorption of nutrients. There are three main types of malnutrition :

  • Undernutrition (chronic or severe) : chronic undernutrition in children means that they are too short for their age. This is referred to as stunted growth. Severe undernutrition means that children are underweight for their age. This is referred to as emaciation.
  • Micronutrient deficiency refers to insufficient intake of vitamins and minerals. In the area of public health, the most concerning deficiencies are those in vitamin A, iron and iodine.
  • Excess weight and obesity are linked with overeating, which can lead to diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions

The health risk caused by unbalanced diet is greater than the risks caused by unprotected sexual relations, drugs and tobacco combined (Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition - GLOPAN, 2016).

France’s action

The French nutritional strategy addresses the fact that malnutrition is not only limited to food (availability of and access to safe, reasonably-priced, nutritious food) but encompasses health, a clean, healthy environment, and healthcare for mothers and children. France promotes a coordinated multi-sector approach that can be applied bilaterally and in European and international bodies.

The fight against undernutrition is one of the priorities of France’s law on orientation and programming for development and international solidarity policies of 7 July 2014 (Law no. 2014-773). On this basis, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs instigated the drafting of a roadmap for France’s action internationally regarding nutrition, for the period 2016-2020. This roadmap was drawn up in collaboration with various French stakeholders in the sector (ministries, research institutes, NGOs, private sector, etc.), under a subgroup of GISA, a multi-actor, multi-sector platform for food security and nutrition. It targets the sectors of health, food security (agricultural and rural development), water, hygiene and sanitation as well as relief action such as food assistance.

The new French strategy for food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture, launched on 22 October 2019, provides for strengthening France’s commitment to nutrition (objective 3). This requires :

  • Strengthening nutrients in contexts of vulnerabilities : 50% of this programmed food assistance of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs for vulnerable people should contribute to nutrition ;
  • The AFD’s aim to achieve that 15% of its commitments in the sectors of health, agriculture, water, hygiene and sanitation contribute to nutrition in certain priority countries by 2024.
  • Strengthening nutrition as part of the Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, which is to allocate 25% of its funds to tackling malnutrition.

Within international forums (World Health Organization - WHO, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization – FAO, World Food Programme – WFP, G7, G20), France is promoting the coordination and strengthening of efforts to fight malnutrition. France is supporting the “Nutrition for Growth, N4G” Summits (the next one is scheduled for December 2021 in Tokyo) and the proclamation by the General Assembly of the United Nations of the Decade of Action on Nutrition for the period 2016-2025. France contributes to the annual Global Nutrition Report, which has been a valuable, widely-consulted, multi-actor, global resource since 2014.

France is also part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement. Active in 60 countries, the Movement brings together actors working on nutritional issues (participating countries, UN institutions, donors, private sector, civil society) and is working to implement appropriate and effective national policies to fight undernutrition through multi-sector platforms in each participating country.

Finally, France is supporting initiatives to further mobilize financing to help the fight against malnutrition.

Updated October 2020