Measuring progress towards SDGs constrained by lack of comparable data on diet and nutrient intake

WHO/Malin Bring

In collaboration with WHO/Europe, a team from the University of Leeds has conducted research into energy levels and nutrient intakes of children and adolescents across the WHO European Region. The research unearthed inconsistencies across national dietary surveys which prevent wider understanding of child and adolescent nutrient intakes across the Region.

The paper, published in Nutrition Research Reviews, reviewed national dietary surveys from the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region, and assessed nutrient intakes in children and adolescents against those recommended by WHO.

“The lack of available data for child and adolescent nutrient intakes is concerning. It makes it extremely difficult to identify vulnerable groups, compare nutrient intakes between countries and provide evidence for policies that could improve health,” said Dr Joao Breda, Programme Manager for Nutrition at WHO /Europe.

Study findings

The study revealed a number of important findings:

  • Only a third of countries in the Region, mainly in western Europe, have available reported data on child and adolescent energy and nutrient intakes.
  • Data reporting was inconsistent; age groupings and the number and type of nutrients reported varied across countries, and many countries did not report by gender in the youngest age groups.
  • In the majority of countries, average reported intakes for children and adolescents failed to meet multiple WHO recommended nutrient intakes.
  • Micronutrient intakes were more favourable than for macronutrients, but were worst in girls and older children.
  • The WHO European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015–2020 already identifies several of the nutrients highlighted in the study as areas of concern, including sodium, saturated fats, free sugars, iron and vitamin D.

The study found that the majority of reporting gaps were in central and eastern European countries; potential nutritional issues in this area may therefore go undetected. It also revealed a significant amount of under-reporting, meaning that nutrition-related issues could be underestimated across all countries.

Easily accessed, robust data is critical in tailoring policies to meet national needs and improve diets across the Region, and national nutrition and health surveys remain the best source of information on dietary risk factors. In many cases, efforts to support countries in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are constrained by a lack of data. WHO encourages national dietary survey implementation to obtain relevant data to inform policies addressing all forms of malnutrition, which remains a pressing issue throughout the Region.