This week’s emails included about 50 from constituents urging me to attend a nutrition event at the House of Commons with Jamie Oliver. I was able to reply by saying that I had beaten them to it because last Thursday evening I had spoken at just such an event, and indeed had followed Jamie Oliver (albeit his contribution had been on video).
The event, at the Brazilian Embassy, was part of the ‘Road to Rio’ – passing leadership from the London Olympics in 2012 to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. A critical initiative launched in London, which needs to be refreshed and re-energised at Rio, is about healthy nutrition.
Last month the world signed-up to the Global Goals at the UN General Assembly, including the commitment to eradicate hunger and under-nutrition by 2030. Notwithstanding the fact that this has halved since 1990, eradicating it remains a very challenging ambition.
We have delivered ourselves into an extra-ordinary situation. Whilst the entire planet is being slowly cooked, a significant minority of its population appears to be determined on eating themselves into oblivion – almost as if they were characters in that seventies cult film La Grande Bouffe.
At the same time the developing world seeks to emulate our ‘sophistication’ by abandoning breastfeeding and increasingly accessing cheap sugar sources. The obscenity is the most under-nourished babies turn out later to be most prone to obesity, with all the morbidity and mortality that follows.
The bright spot is that the focus and finance to deal with this problem has been transformed since 2010. UK has played a major role in this: our aid spending on improving nutrition is $840 million annually. We will need to do more to meet the goal that we have set: In particular, we will need to do more for women and adolescent girls; we will need to do more to collect and analyse data in order to drive improved policy; we will do more to achieve better nutrition from agriculture.
I was able to announce 2 new research projects in partnership with the Gates Foundation. We will provide $41.5 million to fund research into improved agriculture and food choice in the most under-nourished places.
We need more donors, more innovation, and more global thinking. It is vital that we use the Rio Olympics to increase momentum. It would be an abomination if we continue to get ever fatter whilst others go under-nourished.