21 Jan 2020

Has the revolution arrived? Why 2020 is a crucial year for nutrition data

Rebecca Heidkamp and Tricia Aung Principal Investigator and Research Associate at Data for Decisions to Expand Nutrition Transformation (DataDENT)

In 2014, the first Global Nutrition Report proposed that tackling malnutrition required a ‘data revolution’ and made four recommendations to this end. As we begin a new decade, the revolution has not been realised, but a solid strategy is taking shape, built on the nutrition data value chain.

With the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit 2020 taking place in December and a decade remaining to achieve the goal of ending all forms of malnutrition, 2020 is an important year for accelerating global investment in nutrition. Data-driven accountability is one of five priority areas for the Tokyo N4G Summit, identified as crucial in the push to ‘drive equitable progress and ensure we leave no one behind’.

Data for Decisions to Expand Nutrition Transformation (DataDENT) is one of several initiatives advancing the nutrition data revolution in the run-up to the 2020 N4G Summit. DataDENT is contributing to improving the nutrition data value chain through focusing on areas such as costing, community building and developing leadership capacity.

The nutrition data value chain

Building on the first Global Nutrition Report, which identified the need for a ‘data revolution’, the 2017 Global Nutrition Report introduced the nutrition data value chain as a framework for identifying actions and investments to improve data availability and use (Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1


Source: DataDENT, 2019.

In 2019, Ellen Piwoz and colleagues highlighted a number of ongoing global and country-specific efforts to strengthen the nutrition data value chain. They concluded with seven requirements to advance the data revolution:

  1. in-country mechanisms for priority-setting and data coordination
  2. operational guidance for strengthening nutrition data systems
  3. capacity development at multiple levels
  4. costed country data plans that are resourced and implemented
  5. dissemination of knowledge and experience
  6. innovation across the value chain
  7. fostering a culture of data use and sharing

They also emphasised the need for strong leadership at all levels, based on feedback from Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) member countries.

Costing nutrition data is key

Improving the costing of nutrition data information systems is critical to the data revolution. The N4G Summit 2020 is a high-profile opportunity to call on governments, civil society organisations, the private sector, the UN, donors and other stakeholders to make financial and policy commitments to strengthen nutrition data value chains.

DataDENT partner, Results for Development (R4D), reviewed the costed national nutrition plans for 58 SUN countries to identify whether and how they budgeted for nutrition data and information system costs. They found that fewer than half of the countries included these costs in their plans and most of those that did were not specific.

Figure 1.2 outlines the major areas of expenditure for nutrition data systems. The need for costed national nutrition plans is reflected in the N4G financing working group’s commitment making guide.

Figure 1.2


Source: DataDENT, 2019.

Creating a community

Many practices for strengthening nutrition data value chains, such as the use of annual SMART surveys in West Africa, are not yet widely applied. To foster global sharing of knowledge and resources, DataDENT is leading efforts to launch Data for Nutrition – a community of practice that allows members to share knowledge, experience and resources related to nutrition data.

Currently in its ‘soft launch’ phase, Data for Nutrition recently hosted its first quarterly webinar on the recent updates to the nutrition content in the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Program Model Questionnaire - Phase 8 (DHS-8), with guest speakers from The DHS Program, USAID and the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.

Developing a roadmap

DataDENT is engaging with nutrition programme leaders from Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health and the World Bank to help realise the country’s vision for a Nutrition Information System for Health. As part of these efforts, DataDENT will be supporting a process to develop a 10-year costed plan for integrating prioritised indicators into existing data channels in the health sector. It is hoped that this will provide a model that could be replicated by other sectors and countries. This process complements UNICEF’s ongoing efforts to develop guidance on nutrition information systems for member states.

What more can be done?

The Tokyo N4G Summit 2020 is an important milestone, to encourage reflection and planning on how we can fulfill the unfinished nutrition agenda. Accelerating progress to reduce malnutrition requires strong leadership in countries, coordination at all levels and resources to enable action. For commitments to be translated into action, we need long-term, holistic approaches to empower stakeholders at all levels – including frontline health workers and national policymakers – to use data for equitable nutrition progress.

About DataDENT: Launched in 2017, DataDENT has worked with partners at global and country level to strengthen the nutrition value chain. A consortium of three institutions (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the International Food Policy Research Institute and Results for Development), DataDENT is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Key achievements to date include coordinating a successful advocacy effort to improve the nutrition content of the DHS-8 core questionnaire, carrying out a landscaping of global data visualisation tools and similar exercise in India, developing upcoming guidance on measuring the coverage of infant feeding counselling, and providing technical assistance for national nutrition surveys in Nigeria.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not represent the official position of the Global Nutrition Report or associated individuals, institutions and organisations, unless explicitly stated.

Related blog posts

21 Jun 2019

Revolutionising data to drive action on hidden hunger

Katherine Shaw Communications Lead at the Global Fortification Data Exchange & Iodine Global Network

17 Dec 2019

Tackling the global obesity epidemic: Fiscal policies and the secret to a successful sugar tax

Danielle Edge Policy and Public Affairs Manager at World Cancer Research Fund International

21 Nov 2019

Learning from success: What’s working in the fight against malnutrition?

Dr Mariachiara Di Cesare Member of the Global Nutrition Report's Independent Expert Group, Senior Lecturer in Public Health, Middlesex University and Honorary Research Fellow, Imperial College London