18 Mar 2019

New voices in advocacy: why young people are speaking up for nutrition

Global Youth Leaders for Nutrition Programme

From our science lessons as young people we have learned that anything great and significant always starts from the small and simple. No matter how huge and complicated anything might be, it is always made up of tiny, unique atoms and molecules that truly determine the intrinsic worth of the larger whole. Thus, it is the small, individual components that make the difference in everything and anything great in the world.

The thirteen of us, who are a part of the Global Youth Leaders for Nutrition Programme , also believe that our individual actions although small and simple can make a difference. What we do in our communities may not be as big as what established organisations or individuals in power can do, but for us, it is about taking initiative and addressing something that we feel strongly about. For us, it is about being that one voice, that one light, and trying to pass on the passion because we believe that individual actions, when concerted, can create a huge impact. This is why one of our goals as youth leaders is to encourage more young people to be youth advocates for nutrition.

The question is, why are we youth advocates for nutrition in particular? There are thirteen of us Youth Leaders for Nutrition coming from as many different countries, and we all have our own reasons and defining moments that have made us realise why nutrition is something we should advocate for.

Here are the top six reasons why nutrition is our passion as youth advocates and why, as young people, it should be yours too.

Fantastic Advocates and Where to Find Them

When young people are asked what they advocate for, nutrition isn’t really the go-to choice. We’ve realised that nutrition isn’t popular among youngsters, unlike climate action or women’s empowerment, despite how important it is. Young people often fail to recognise that nutrition affects them every single day. Our everyday food choices affect our health, how we feel today, tomorrow, and in the future. Furthermore, we discovered that a lot of people suffer from malnutrition, especially women and children. However, it rarely becomes the ‘talk of the town’. According to the 2018 Global Nutrition Report, 22.2% of children aged 0–59 months are stunted. That’s over 150 million children who are not growing or developing properly. As youth advocates, we believe that people should be talking about this. We want to put the spotlight on the worldwide concern of malnutrition.

Who Run the World? Healthy Individuals

Nutrition is a cornerstone for building strong human capital and sustainable development. Nutrition is the foundation of life and is the fuel that drives development forward. According to the 2018 Global Nutrition Report, although much progress has been made, every country in the world is still plagued by malnutrition one way or another. There is a need to accelerate the progress and in turn, accelerate development. When people are healthy and get the nutrients they need, they become more productive. An efficient use of people’s productivity turns into a higher economic output, higher income and development for the nation in total. The projects we are doing in our communities take a bottom-up approach to emphasising the importance of nutrition. Our grassroot actions, we hope, will eventually contribute to the overall development of the nation.

Nutrition: Into the Advocacy-verse!

Another thing that we realised is how nutrition overlaps with other areas of global development like health, education, gender inequality and the environment. As youth advocates, we are passionate in taking action in other areas as well. While working on our nutrition-centric action plans, we were ecstatic to realise that we were simultaneously covering other international development issues that we are equally passionate about. For some of us, working on adolescent female health addresses the need in areas of both adolescent nutrition and gender inequality given that women are disproportionately affected by health issues. Nutrition is at the heart of the Social Development Goals (SDGs) and interlinks with the other SDG goals.

Ready Advocate One

One of the reasons why young people are less likely to get involved with nutrition within advocacy is because it seems overcomplicated and too technical, and so can be intimidating. When we started off with our campaigns, or even before, we certainly weren’t really experts on the subject ourselves! What we were certain of was that we wanted to do our part in addressing the issue, even in our own way. We are still ‘learning the ropes’ on nutrition and advocacy, and we are learning something new every day. It has made us realise that nutrition is an interesting and relatable subject. In order to be an advocate for nutrition, one does not need to be a super-scientist! All you need to be equipped with is the passion to serve and a willingness to take action.

Nutrition is Everyone’s Business

Nutrition is everyone’s business because it is the foundation of life. We all need to eat and we need proper nutrition to live a healthier and happier life. Good nutrition helps people to reach their full potential and can help us in achieving overall development. Nutrition should not only be the concern of professionals in the field of health or agriculture, young people should also be at the forefront in taking action on nutrition. But of course, young people cannot do it alone. They also need the guidance and support of governments and organisations.

Youth-ception

Perhaps one of the main reasons why we wanted to take part in nutrition advocacy is because of how different nutrition issues affect young people, especially adolescents and girls. During the adolescent stage, nutrient needs are higher because of puberty and brain maturation. Furthermore, according to the 2018 Global Nutrition Report, adolescent girls remain particularly vulnerable to malnutrition during this stage of the lifecycle due to an increased need for iron, early marriages (which can lead to early pregnancies), and increased susceptibility to obesity. We want to help our fellow young people to be healthier and to live a healthier life.

As a generation, we have a strong belief that we want to live in a healthier world, free from any form of malnutrition. This is an ambitious vision but can be made possible especially if more young people rally together and are supported.

We may start as one light in the darkness and one voice in a crowd. But with our small and simple actions, we are lighting more embers of hope. With our small and simple actions, we are amplifying people’s voices.

Anyone can be a youth advocate for nutrition. It all begins with small and simple actions. Will you start the spark? Will you create the noise?

The Global Youth Leaders for Nutrition Programme aims to empower young people, primarily from countries with high rates of malnutrition, to become leaders in the campaign to end malnutrition. The programme, which is a partnership between the Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Network, RESULTS, ACTION and Global Citizen, provides young people with the skills they need to create change in their own communities as well as advocate at global forums.