Grading the U.S. on Nutrition

June 26, 2013
by John Fawcett, Global Legislative Director

On June 8, global leaders gathered in London for the Nutrition for Growth summit, an opportunity to pledge additional support to fight undernutrition. The event was the culmination of a global advocacy effort to increase the amount and quality of aid directed to nutrition programs. RESULTS joined other advocacy and humanitarian groups in calling on the U.S. to make specific commitments at the event, including a clear baseline of nutrition spending, additional funding going forward, and a comprehensive U.S. strategy on nutrition. Did the U.S. make the grade? The report card is decidedly mixed.

Clear, transparent baseline on current U.S. investments in nutrition

Grade: A

How much is the U.S. investing in nutrition interventions? This has been a deceptively difficult question to answer. Different sources of data show spending ranging from around $50 million to over $150 million. Without knowing how much is being spent (and where, and on what), it is difficult for Congress to conduct oversight, or for advocacy organizations to monitor results. Without a full accounting of nutrition investments, it is impossible to ensure funding is maximized to improve the nutritional status of children.

In the lead up to the Nutrition for Growth summit, the U.S. government, led by USAID, conducted a thorough review to determine a nutrition spending baseline. What they found was that the U.S. currently spends about $350 million annually on average on nutrition specific interventions. This is far more than previously reported. Nutrition specific interventions include things like micronutrients for kids, promotion of breastfeeding, and treatment of severe acute malnutrition. The U.S. is currently spending about $3 billion dollars per year on nutrition sensitive programs — which includes agriculture programs and other things that are related to nutrition and could have positive impact on nutrition outcomes if they are designed and monitored to do so.

This clear baseline is a big step forward for our understanding of how the U.S. is investing in nutrition. We now have an opportunity to ensure that every dollar labeled “nutrition” has clear nutrition goals and indicators that are measured and publicly reported.

Three year (FY14–16) commitment of $1.35 billion for nutrition programs

Grade: D

At the June 8 event, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said, “Today, I was pleased to announce that the U.S. Government is providing more than $1 billion for nutrition-specific interventions and nearly $9 billion on nutrition-sensitive activities over fiscal years 2012—2014.” While this initially looks like a win because of the amount of money, unfortunately, Shah did not announce any new commitment to increase funding for nutrition, or commit to any funding levels beyond the President’s existing budget proposal for FY 2014. A multi-year commitment to increase funding would have sent a strong signal to developing countries to scale up their nutrition programs and may have encouraged other donor countries to do more.

Although no specific funding commitments were made, the U.S. avoids a failing grade by building on their previous commitment to reduce stunting by 20 percent in focus areas, preventing 2 million children from being stunted. We will continue to work with Congress to ensure the U.S. has the funding levels to meet that target and expand nutrition programs.

Comprehensive U.S. nutrition strategy

Grade: Incomplete

While the U.S. has yet to deliver a nutrition strategy, USAID officials have committed to do so. The first iteration of the strategy due later this year will focus on USAID’s nutrition programs, and a will expanded next year as a “whole-of-government” strategy that incorporates the activities of other U.S. agencies. USAID has asked for input on this strategy, and RESULTS will work to ensure that it includes specific and ambitions nutrition targets. We hope to be able to revise this grade to an ‘A’ in the near future.

Overall, the Nutrition for Growth summit successfully mobilized high-level political and financial commitments to nutrition. The Global Nutrition for Growth Compact — which includes targets to prevent 20 million children from being stunted and save 1.7 million lives by 2020 — was endorsed by nearly 100 stakeholders. Countries fighting undernutrition committed to increasing their own resources, and many donor countries (most notably the UK) made significant financial pledges. The U.S. took important steps forward, but still has work to do before getting a gold-starred report card.

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