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On November 23rd, Nutrition International hosted an official Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit side event entitled Essential nutrition interventions and the prevention of NCDs in later life − Results from the Nutrition International / Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health IGNITE collaboration.

The discussion spoke to the joint study undertaken by Nutrition International and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which demonstrates how maternal nutrition interventions can reduce the likelihood of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) developing later in life. This research is the first to quantify the intergenerational impact of prenatal interventions on NCD occurrence in both children and adults.Watch the full event and read our recap of the key points below.

 Nutrition interventions are one of the best buys in global health − and this new research further bolsters the evidence on the intergenerational impacts of maternal nutrition interventions to address undernutrition at birth and further to set the groundwork in preventing NCDs later in life. The research showed that interventions like multiple micronutrient supplementation result in positive birth outcomes, reducing instances of stunting and wasting in early childhood, while also preventing diabetes, hypertension and delaying NCD related deaths.

The pandemic exposed the vulnerability of those with NCDs to communicable diseases like COVID-19, increasing the urgency on addressing NCDs and the conditions that cause them as part of renewed global epidemic preparedness. Those with diabetes, heart disease and hypertension were not only most likely to be infected with the virus but also more at risk for the infection to be fatal. Speaking to the Pakistan experience, Dr. Shabnam Sarfaraz

Member, Social Sector, Planning Commission, noted that crude death rates of 62% in the country were as a result of NCDs, growing to 77% of deaths when standardised for age − and this was compounded and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As it stands, the global approach to nutrition programming remains somewhat fragmented, and implementation of interventions are not prioritized by impact. Bridging the gap between maternal nutrition and NCD prevention harmonises the agenda on undernutrition and overweight/obesity by bringing together action on immediate high-impact and programmatic scale-up of nutrition interventions alongside long-term policy approaches at country level. An integrated approach drives down health costs both at a systemic level and at an individual level, moves financial investment to preventative health action and furthers progress towards the implementation of universal health coverage (UHC).

N4G and the mobilization of policy and financial commitments across all stakeholders offer the opportunity to frame maternal nutrition interventions within the context of driving progress towards UHC and reducing the prevalence of NCDs. The cost of inaction continues to grow and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the importance of breaking down silos. To build back better we need to build back in a thoughtful manner, put countries at the centre of nutrition programming and continue to prioritise technical assistance and building operational capacity.

Bringing together work on maternal nutrition, communicable disease and NCDs will have important implications for building comprehensive research agendas, developing implementation plans at country level and delivering increased returns on each dollar invested in nutrition interventions.