Industry Encouraged to Participate in Sustainable Value Creation

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a major shift in global development thinking. And while they are meant to serve as a blueprint to guide national agendas and political policies for the coming 15 years, they are also meant to be an unprecedented opportunity for long-term sustainable value creation, said Dr Sania Nishtar in her keynote address at Food Industry Asia’s (FIA) sixth Annual General Meeting on 27 April in Singapore.

For this reason alone, Dr Nishtar, Co-Chair of the World Health Organization’s Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO), and Founder and President of Heartfile, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation (NGO) think tank with a focus on policy analysis and innovative solutions for improving health systems in Pakistan, believes that the SDGs must be of interest and importance to the business community.

In her message, Dr Nishtar said that the United Nations (UN) firmly believes that the business community, as a whole, has a key role to play in advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

"The SDGs have a holistic approach to your area of interest because they expand the spectrum of development priorities, from what was once a sole focus on undernutrition and food security to one that now also includes food quality, equity and food systems," she said.

Dr Nishtar added that she believed that the problems we face today can only be solved through collaborative action, where all sectors of the society play a role in the pursuit of common objectives. She noted that the SDGs have created a strong imperative for different sectors to get to know each other better, and to explore ways where they can work together for positive change.

The SDGs are part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in which Heads of State from more than 190 countries are signatories, and they collectively aim to wipe out extreme poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years. The SDGs set out 17 goals and 169 targets that provide a rallying point for governments and development actors, including Goal Two, which aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

Global statistics, Dr Nishtar noted, simply show problems at both ends of the malnutrition spectrum.

“Today, approximately 462 million adults worldwide are underweight; but on the other hand, almost 2 billion are also overweight or obese. Communities still struggling with growth-stunting rates of up to 30 per cent are now witnessing a rise in obesity and related disease”, she claimed.

Dr Nishtar added that within the same family, it is possible for the children to experience wasting, while the other family members struggle with being overweight. She said that in low- and middle-income countries with emerging economies, almost five million children continue to die of undernutrition-related causes every year, while these same populations are now witnessing a rise in childhood overweight and obesity, increasing at a rate 30-per cent faster than in richer nations.

“For Asia, in particular, where 48 per cent of all overweight children live, there is an additional risk, because with the rapid social and nutrition transitions, even more children are at risk of obesity. Childhood obesity leaves an indelible mark, and there is a risk that this generation of children will continue into adulthood with all the associated non-communicable disease risks”, Dr Nishtar said.

“We can no longer afford to disregard non-communicable diseases, which today are the major global killers. NCDs are accountable for 12 million deaths in 2012 alone. Diet and obesity prevention are part of the key strategies to avert this epidemic.”

The Commission (ECHO) recognises the role the private sector can play in addressing childhood obesity through initiatives on product reformulation, portion control and innovation. Dr Nishtar noted that these areas need to be encouraged where supported by evidence, as they have the potential to have a positive impact on the challenge of childhood obesity.

Dr Nishtar said that the common ground between the Commission’s recommendations and the food industry’s initiatives lies in the recognition of and commitment from all actors to work together – espousing a holistic approach – to achieve the collective goal of ending childhood obesity. The commitment to deliver on this goal, she added, will not only ensure the health and well-being of children, but will also contribute to the sustainable development agenda and its goals.

Furthermore, beyond the specific goals of ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030 and reducing, by one-third, premature mortality from non-communicable diseases, many other positive outcomes can be achieved.

The ECHO Report is the culmination of a two-year process that involved face-to-face discussions with more than a hundred countries in all regions of the world. The Commission also held several Non-State Actor hearings and two open online consultations, and factored in the inputs of two expert working groups – one on science and evidence, and the other on implementation, monitoring and accountability.

Concluding her speech, Dr Nishtar said, “The area of childhood obesity is just one illustrative example of what can be achieved through the whole-of-society approach to public policy implementation, and I encourage you to explore many other ways.”

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