By: Emma Edwards, Child Health Now Campaign Advisor, World Vision International
We know that football has the potential to transcend language and cultural divides, and we’ve all experienced at one time or another the electric atmosphere that surrounds a FIFA World Cup match – an indelible mark was left on supporters of Australia’s Socceroos, including myself, in the second round match between Australia and Italy in 2006 when the referee awarded a controversial penalty kick to Italy just seconds before the final whistle! Italy went on to win the World Cup that year.
So what does football have to do with malnutrition in Asia?
World Vision International has joined forces with the Asian Football Confederation and the Asian Football Development Project, along with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and Royal DSM under the banner of One Goal – a campaign designed to contribute to the development of healthier children, fans and football players across Asia. The One Goal campaign will today launch its inaugural report: ‘Fuelling Asia’s footballers for the future’, at the Next Steps Sports for Development Conference hosted by Magic Bus Foundation India. It is calling for the support of national governments, the corporate sector, civil society, the general public and football fans globally to leverage the power and passion for football to tackle the double burden associated with poor nutrition that dictates that children in Asia may not be given the ‘sporting chance’ needed to achieve their highest potential.
Asia is home to 578 million of the nearly 1 billion malnourished people in the world. The under-5 statistics are particularly alarming. One quarter of Asia’s 350 million children under the age of 5 are underweight, while 100 million of the 165 million children under-5 suffer from stunting – the outcome of chronic inadequate nutrition during the critical first 1,000 days of a child’s life that causes irreversible effects on a child’s cognitive and physical development. At the same time, 16.5 million under-5 children in Asia are overweight and obese. This number is expected to rise to 23.1 million by 2025. This double burden of malnutrition has emerged in the wake of Asia’s economic transition.
The global development community has acknowledged that a lack of concerted investment in nutrition has resulted in slower than anticipated progress in reaching the Millennium Development Goal target for reduction in hunger. Some even call it the forgotten MDG. In the First Report of the independent Expert Review Group (iERG) for Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, the iERG identified nutrition as a ‘neglected’ area, but one that was critical for the future success of achieving improvements in women’s and children’s health. Encouragingly, new initiatives have contributed to scaling up nutrition programmes and making them a priority on the global political agenda:
- The 2012 World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted the WHO Comprehensive Implementation Plan on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition (Nutrition Plan). The intention of the Plan is to alleviate the double burden of malnutrition in children, starting from the earliest stages of development
- The UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health (known as ‘Every Woman, Every Child’)
- Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) initiative – mobilising countries and development partners to invest in tackling malnutrition through evidence-based policies and programs
- The 1,000 Days Partnership
The One Goal campaign will harness the power of football as the ‘equaliser’ to create a movement for change that can positively impact the nutritional status and outcomes for Asian children and increase the number of children and youth who adopt healthy and active lifestyles. It will leverage international and national sporting events across Asia to build new networks and advocate for improved nutrition, while raising awareness about good nutritional and child feeding practices and encouraging behavioural change at the community level.
Football is the vehicle by which we can popularise the issue of malnutrition in Asia amongst all who have a responsibility in implementing appropriate responses (including the general public and duty-bearers). We can all be a part of the One Goal team that seeks to level the playing field for Asia’s children by successfully converting the ‘chance’ for improved nutritional outcomes.
- Black, Robert, et al. (2013), ‘Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low-income and middle-income countries.’ The Lancet, Maternal and Child Nutrition Series.
- International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank (2013), Improving Nutrition Through Multi-sectoral Approaches
- World Health Organization (2012), Every Woman, Every Child: From Commitments to Action: the First Report of the independent Expert Review Group (iERG) on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, p4.