Freely available until January 31, 2022

The American Society for Nutrition’s (ASN) latest Special Collection, Sustainable Nutrition for Growth, presents new research and new approaches towards transforming global food systems to ensure sustainable human health and planetary health.  Moreover, the articles in this new collection point the way towards reducing stunting and improving cognitive growth among children.  The authors of these articles offer a variety of perspectives, from the latest scientific research findings to lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to wisdom culled from ancient Indigenous cultures and practices.

Food System Summit 2021 Underscores Need for Sustainable Nutrition

The Food Systems Summit, convened by the United Nations (UN) on September 23, 2021, focused on the need for “healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems.”  Following the summit, the UN reported, “more than 150 countries made commitments to transform their food systems, while championing greater participation and equity, especially amongst farmers, women, youth, and Indigenous groups.”

The Sustainable Nutrition for Growth Special Collection was inspired by the UN Sustainable Goal of Zero Hunger.  According to the UN, “after decades of steady decline, the number of people who suffer from hunger—as measured by the prevalence of undernourishment—began to slowly increase again in 2015.  Current estimates show that nearly 690 million people are hungry, or 8.9 percent of the world population—up by 10 million people in one year and by nearly 60 million in five years.”

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, pushing the world further away from the UN’s 2030 zero hunger goal.  If recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 840 million by 2030.  In response, the UN has called for “a profound change of the global food and agriculture system…to nourish the more than 690 million people who are hungry today—and the additional 2 billion people the world will have by 2050.”

Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit, December 7-8, 2021

The Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit is asking world leaders to commit to food, health and prosperity for all.  More specifically, the Summit is dedicated to securing meaningful global commitments to making nutrition integral to universal health coverage, building food systems that promote healthy nutrition, and addressing malnutrition in fragile and conflict-affected regions.

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Sustainable Nutrition for Growth features original research articles, scientific reviews, and perspectives selected from all four ASN journals, divided into five sections:

Selected Highlights from the ASN Special Collection

Maternal Plasma 25-Hydroxyvitamin D during Gestation Is Positively Associated with Neurocognitive Development in Offspring at Age 4–6 Years 

Working with a group of 1,503 women in their second trimester of healthy pregnancies, ASN member Melissa M. Melough et al. studied the association of gestational vitamin D status with children’s IQ at four to six years.  In addition, the authors explored whether these associations differed by race.  The results of the study indicated that gestational vitamin D concentrations are positively associated with IQ at four to six years of age, “suggesting that vitamin D plays an important role in programming neurocognitive development.” The authors did find that vitamin D deficiency was especially prevalent among Black women in the study cohort, “suggesting a heightened need for screening and nutritional intervention in this vulnerable population.”

Vegetarian Diets: Planetary Health and Its Alignment with Human Health

Global dietary patterns, particularly Western dietary patterns, tend to be rich in animal products and high in calories.  These dietary patterns have been shown to be detrimental to both human and planetary health.  In this review, Ujué Fresán et al. sought to discover how a broadscale transition towards a more vegetarian diet might affect both human health and planetary health.  According to the review’s findings, global transitioning towards a more plant-based diet confers planetary health benefits, such as lower greenhouse gas emissions and a lower demand for both land and water. Moreover, the transition would also confer human health benefits, including a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes and cancer. Despite these benefits the authors did express skepticism about “the political will to promote meat-free diets as the social norm.”

COVID-19 Pandemic and Mitigation Strategies: Implications for Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges to ensuring good maternal and child nutrition. For example, Nadia Akseer et al. point to models that project child wasting could increase by 10 to 50% as a result of COVID-19–related economic deterioration, food insecurity, and interruption of community-based health services. Moreover, the authors believe these figures may not fully account for the pandemic’s negative impact on maternal nutrition.  In response, the authors have developed a set of recommended interventions to strengthen the food-supply chain and reduce food insecurity in order to assist mothers and children at immediate risk. In addition, the authors call for “targeting the most marginalized households in rural populations and urban slums…through deploying community health workers.”

The Editors of the four ASN journals invite you to explore this collection of articles on Sustainable Nutrition for Growth, freely available until January 31, 2022.  According to ASN member Eileen Kennedy et al., authors of Transforming Food Systems: The Missing Pieces Needed to Make Them Work, “the need for radical transformation of current food systems is inescapable.”  This article, part of the Special Collection, along with the more than 30 other articles in the collection, helps point the way to viable solutions.