Fighting not just hunger but malnutrition

Some 815 million people go hungry each day. More than twice that may have full plates, but they aren’t eating the right foods. The malnourished include those who eat too little and those who eat too much.

The consequences are dire for infants and young children. Almost half of all deaths of children under age 5 are linked to undernutrition, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

And 155 million other children are stunted — far too small for their age — because they didn’t ingest sufficient vegetables and minerals, impairing their physical and mental development.

Malnutrition is not just “about having too little food to eat,” says British economist and nutrition expert Lawrence Haddad. “It is also about not having enough of the right type and eating too much of the wrong type of food.”

Lawrence Haddad bending down and smiling at children holding flowers (World Food Prize)
Lawrence Haddad seeks to inform governments and people around the world about the value of proper nutrition. (World Food Prize)

Haddad, who spent two decades in the United States as a food policy researcher and nutrition advocate, and David Nabarro, a British physician who led a major United Nations nutrition initiative, are the 2018 winners of the $250,000 World Food Prize.

The laureates, as they are called, follow in the footsteps of the late Norman Borlaug, the agronomist and Nobel Peace Prize winner who led the “Green Revolution” that helped feed the world. Borlaug started awarding the prize in 1986 and it is carried on with support from companies and foundations.

The Oxford-educated Nabarro, 68, led the United Nations-backed Scaling Up Nutrition initiative. He began his international medical work with Save the Children, helping Kurdish children in Iraq and later in Nepal. At Britain’s Department for International Development, he helped make nutrition a priority.

After earning a doctorate at Stanford, Haddad, 59, was the nutrition division director for the International Food Policy Research Institute, a Washington think tank. Back in the United Kingdom, as head of the Institute of Development Studies, he developed a Global Nutrition Report that grades countries on how well they tackle the problem.

“The big problem was that nutrition was everybody’s business but nobody’s responsibility,” he says. “There’s no ministry of nutrition. It falls between the cracks of agriculture, health and — usually — women’s welfare.”

People standing in a dirt field talking (World Food Prize)
Dr. David Nabarro, left, spent two decades in leadership roles on U.N. and World Health Organization public health and nutrition projects. (World Food Prize)

Since 2016 he’s led the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, which promotes public-private partnerships. “I was frustrated that so many people in nutrition see businesses as the enemy and others who saw business as the only solution.”

Haddad is no stranger to poverty. He was born in South Africa, the grandson of Lebanese immigrants. The family moved to London in 1961 to escape the reach of apartheid laws. “We were on welfare for nine years,” says Haddad, who still recalls the embarrassment of having to present a different colored ticket for free lunch in the school cafeteria.

“I remember thinking, ‘If they just changed the color, this would not be a big deal,’” he says. “It made me think hard about welfare, dignity and stigma” and the importance of helping people “without making them feel diminished.”

The prize recipients were announced in June at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The award ceremony takes place October 18 at the Iowa State Capitol.

Learn about the accomplishments of the 2016 and 2017 World Food Prize laureates.