Geting Micronutrient Malnutrition on the Public Health Agenda


Perspectives from journalist Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

One of the issues that receives the worst coverage in the media is public health. Thus began Nicholas Kristof who has extensively covered public health problems in developing countries in his New York Times column. Unlike breaking news of the moment, there is no daily story or event with this ongoing crisis to command media attention.  In fact, these and other issues that really do matter,  do not have the marketing force behind them to get the attention of the media or public. “It’s more important to market zinc [for health] than coca-cola,” he said.

Noting that while tens of thousands of people were being slaughtered in Darfur, New Yorkers and the media were more concerned about the plight of two red-tailed hawks that were evicted from their lofty Fifth Avenue nest. This led Kristof to investigate why people care about certain things, but not others.

He found that it’s important to first make an emotional connection with your audience rather than a rational connection. Furthermore, stories of one individual tend to be more powerful; once you speak of greater numbers suffering, you lose empathy. So putting this in practice, once you’ve opened that pathway you can then follow through with more information and context.

As the media struggles to find a new business model, and cuts back on overseas coverage to save costs, the nutrition community will need to work harder to get its stories in front of the press. People also want to be part of something positive but NGOs often focus on “suffering rather than solutions."

All this requires a change from business as usual. Working with celebrities to shine the spotlight on your cause is one way. Online games,  videos and other web strategies are new ways to engage with audiences who may not read a newspaper column.  Humor, when appropriate, also works well.

Terms or slogans that that are more user-friendly are also needed—it’s hard to gain traction with non-scientific audiences using terms like ‘micronutrients’ or ‘MDGs’.

With increasing competition for coverage, NGOs will also have to develop greater expertise —not just in knowing the issues at the grassroots —but also "seeing the  bigger picture from 30,00 feet."

View the Q&A from this session with Nicholas Kristof

Please leave a comment to share your thoughts on Kristof’s keynote, and how to get public health issues in the media spotlight!

Biofortification: The Five Big Challenges

Howarth Bouis, HarvestPlus Director

Howarth Bouis, HarvestPlus Director

Guest blog by Tiffany Imes Mickey Leland International Hunger Fellow at the Congressional Hunger Center.

In today's plenary, Howarth Bouis, HarvestPlus Director presented progress made in biofortification, as well as the challenges.

He explained the comparative advantages of biofortification and why this technology that targets the rural poor could be a cost-effective approach to improving nutrition. Bouis also shared the progress that has been made in using crop breeding to improve nutrition. He cited advances in the biofortification of staple crops such as cassava and the use of biofortified foods for school feeding programs in Brazil. He also mentioned advances made in transgenic breeding.

According to Bouis advances in breeding techniques and discoveries of key genes has produced crops with nutrient levels that are high enough to improve human nutrition. Furthermore, Bouis said that “evidence shows that there is no trade-off between high nutrient content and high crop yield.” He highlighted recent findings on the impressive retention of provitamin A (beta-carotene) in maize, which is the most important staple food in much of Africa. Encouraging findings are also emerging from a recent project that introduced orange sweet potato to 24,000 households in Uganda and Mozambique.

Dr. Bouis also shared the constraints he has encountered as biofortification has progressed over the years. He ended his talk by noting the following key challenges faced:

1. Identifying optimal delivery strategies for getting biofortified foods to people
2. Ensuring and measuring the public health impact of biofortification
3. Developing a better understanding of how foods impact human nutrition
4. Getting the agricultural sector to prioritize improving nutrition
5. Getting the nutrition community to prioritize agriculture in order to improve nutrition

The audience particapted in a show of hands to assess which of these they saw as the main priorities. Bouis noted that on the last day of the sympsoium, we would revisit these challenges to see if perceptions had changed over the course of the conference as the latest findings were presented.

See the full presentation on Slideshare.

Letter from Senator George McGovern

Letter presented tonight to conference participants by David Lambert on behalf of Senator McGovern.

Day One in Pictures