Today’s Youth Leaders for Nutrition

The countdown has begun. There’s one year to go before the government of Japan hosts the next Nutrition for Growth summit. To help gear up for it, Scaling Up Nutrition’s (SUN) youth leaders for nutrition have – with the support of the SUN civil society network, Save the Children, Anthrologica and GAIN – launched a new adolescent nutrition advocacy toolkit.

Why is this important?

I have never forgotten a conversation I once had in a hut in southern Niger with Professor Mike Golden, a brilliant nutrition expert and long-time guru for many humanitarian nutritionists like myself. He spent his life trying to improve the treatment of malnutrition, primarily for children under five years. Yet he told me that if he was only able to spend money on one demographic group, it would be on adolescents. This, he believed, would go a long way to stopping malnutrition being passed on from one generation to the next.

Since that conversation, I’ve seen much evidence that nutritional deprivation in adolescence can have a negative impact on the health of both the adolescent and,  if a girl becomes pregnant, her children. But on a positive note, adolescence has the potential to be a critical window to help combat malnutrition – as revealed by recent research which showed that catch-up growth can still occur during adolescence, particularly between the ages of 12 and 15.

The urgency of addressing this is felt acutely among the powerful SUN youth advocates working on nutrition campaigns in their 13 respective countries. The idea of producing a toolkit to support advocacy on adolescent nutrition originated from these youth leaders,  and they were involved right through to its final reviews.

Six of these amazing youth advocates – Barsha, Florence, Jane, Jade, Ana and Hanitra – launched the toolkit at the June 2019 Women Deliver conference in Vancouver, which focused on gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women. Their side event was entirely youth led from beginning to end. They spoke with genuine passion about the specific nutrition problems in their countries and how this toolkit could help them advocate for the right solutions. They demonstrated how the toolkit in designing, developing and implementing an advocacy strategy takes you through nine steps – from identifying the issue and planning a campaign to delivering messages, assessing progress and reporting back to the affected communities. The accompanying nutrition briefs provide great summaries on why malnutrition matters, its different forms and what can be done to address them. And there are briefs on the links between adolescent nutrition and other sectors (water, sanitation and hygiene; education; child marriage; early pregnancy; and gender equality). The youth leaders continue to advocate on these issues on panels and podiums, in parliaments and programmes.

Why now?

We believe that the Tokyo 2020 Nutrition for Growth Summit has the potential to be a transformational moment in accelerating the reduction of malnutrition around the world. This must include addressing adolescent nutrition, as well as nutrition for the first 1,000 days.

The government of Japan has expressed support for youth participation as part of the summit. Ensuring best practice youth engagement requires building a culture of support and learning from each other as well as from experts in the field. Young people have the best understanding of youth nutrition needs, how to address them and how to build momentum among their peer group.

If we are to succeed in securing good nutrition for the next generation, the governments, philanthropists, civil society organisations, academics and business leaders working on the policies and financial commitments that are agreed on at this critical summit must listen to youth leaders for nutrition – and act.


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