Notes from the Second International Conference on Nutrition

The Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) was 19-21 November 2014 in Rome in which senior national policymakers and leaders in agriculture, health, and other relevant ministries gather to address today’s major nutrition challenges.

World Vision’s Nutrition Policy and Partnerships Advisor for Sustainable Health, Miriam Yiannakis, was at ICN2 and shares her notes from the conference with Child Health Now.


The first International Conference on Nutrition was in 1992 but unfortunately progress has not been fast moving in the 12 years since.

His Holiness Pope Francis presented an inspiring message on social justice – we all have a basic human right to food and nutrition. The hungry of the world need dignity, not charity.  He further challenged us to watch how we are treating the earth: "Humans may forgive but nature does not…we must care for Mother Nature, so that she does not respond with destruction." He also referred back to the first ICN where Pope John Paul spoke of the “paradox of plenty” – which, sadly is a message as relevant today as it was 22 years ago. 

HRH Queen Letizia of Spain spoke to the important role of women, not only in nutrition, but in global food production. 

Her Royal Highness Haya Bint Al Hussein  of UAE speech literally brought tears to the eyes of the participants in the plenary when she spoke of the human face of hunger. She spoke the reality of hunger in her experience where she witnesses the death of a child that was never named because the mother never expected her child to be able to survive. 
A couple things that stood out for me during the conference:

  • There is a lack of progress in addressing malnutrition, when, in so many contexts we know what to do!  One challenge is that malnutrition is pretty much normal – there are so many different ‘faces’ to malnutrition – from the starving child in a drought stricken area, or starving family cut off due to war, or micronutrient deficiencies affecting women in almost any country, to childhood and adult obesity leading to non-communicable disease outbreaks being seen in many countries.   
  • The crisis of malnutrition doesn’t have one specific home.  If a country’s education system fails, the Minister of Education is brought to task, if the economy fails, the Minister of Finance is held accountable – but no one sector is held accountable for nutrition.  Nutrition is part of many areas of work, but doesn’t have one single home, and therefore many time remains ‘homeless’ and no one is held responsible for failures to make progress. 
  • There are widely divergent opinions on the role of the private sector on nutrition. What role the private sector should play in public matters, particularly for nutrition.  Discussions – should there be boundaries, what would those boundaries look like? How do we prevent conflicts of interest that take priority away from the good of the people and place it in the good of the public sector instead?
  • Capacity to deliver is huge challenge because we can have fantastic global and national level declarations and commitments but does that translate into differences in the lives of children in rural poor communities, communities that are marginalized or vulnerable?  We already know that nutrition competencies for front line staff in many contexts is extremely low, how are we going to address the capacity to deliver on all these promises and commitments. 
  • There is a huge gap in nutrition data – including information on spending on nutrition.  Right now, we don’t know what is being spent on nutrition so that makes it very difficult to track commitments.

Much depends on what happens now – in the months following ICN2 and leading up to several important meetings (the UNGA meetings in September, the World Committee on Food Security meeting in October, and the Intl Conf on Financing for Development in July) because all of these will, potentially, help provide the governance and financing framework through which real action can take place.

At the end of the conference I felt that participants were encouraged.  Most of the speakers and participants were not nutritionists. There were many new strong voices for nutrition from outside the nutrition ‘technical’ group. These new voices are exactly what are needed to bring a new perspective, new leadership into the nutrition field so that perhaps we can finally make the progress needed. 

I am hopeful that by the time the next ICN rolls around we will be able to celebrate progress of these important nutrition issues affecting the health of children worldwide.

See the 5 key messages of ICN2.