New York/Geneva — Joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for the Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems

“The Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems is an opportunity to set the agenda for how we will boldly and collectively strengthen food systems, promote healthy diets, and improve nutrition, especially for children and young people.

“Even before the pandemic, children were bearing the brunt of broken food systems and poor diets, leading to an alarming nutrition and health crisis worldwide, and a triple burden of malnutrition: undernutrition, in the form of stunting and wasting, widespread micronutrient deficiencies, and a growing prevalence of overweight and obesity.

“Globally, 1 in 3 children is not growing well due to malnutrition – a leading cause of child mortality worldwide – while 2 in 3 don’t have access to the minimum diverse diets they need to grow, develop and learn. We continue to see stubbornly high rates of wasting, and a worrying increase in overweight and obesity among young children.

“In recent decades, changes in our global food systems – including the practices used to grow, distribute, market, consume, and dispose of our food – mean that the most nutritious and safe foods are too costly or inaccessible to millions of families. Many increasingly turn to processed foods that are affordable, widely available, and aggressively marketed, but often high in unhealthy sugar, fats and salt.

“A toxic combination of rising poverty, inequality, conflict, climate change, and COVID-19 is further threatening food systems and children’s nutritional well-being, especially those from the poorest and most vulnerable communities and households.

“A transformation of the food system that listens to the voices of children and young people, and unlocks nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets for every child, everywhere, must be at the heart of strategies, policies and investments. UNICEF and WHO call on governments and decision-makers to scale up effective approaches that include:

Incentivizing healthy diets through price policies, including subsidies to reduce the price of nutritious foods such as eggs, dairy, fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, or taxes to increase the price of unhealthy options.

Improving the nutritional quality of food through mandatory fortification of staple foods with essential micronutrients, the reduction of sodium and sugar, and the elimination of industrially produced trans fats in processed foods.