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Action against Stunting Summit

On Monday 23rd April, LIDC was delighted to welcome over 30 people to our Action against Stunting Summit. The Summit brought together academic researchers, policy makers, and the civil society for a day of panel discussions and debates about the role of disruptive research in global child nutrition. In addition, the event identified leverage points where research findings could inform policy and practice.

LIDC Director, Professor Claire Heffernan, opened the day with a warm welcome to our guests. In her presentation, Professor Heffernan stressed that there are currently 155-166.8 million stunted children around the world. While gains have been made, stunting remains one of the world’s most intractable challenges.

Professor Heffernan then introduced our first academic panel, which explored ‘next generation’ research within the context of the Whole Child aimed at preventing stunting and reversing crucial elements. First of all, Professor Paul Haggarty of the University of Aberdeen explored the role of epigenetics (the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off) in tackling child nutrition. He stressed that epigenetics can play a vital role in predicting stunting, ameliorating or reversing the effects of stunting, and preventing the problem. Following this, Professor Joanne Webster of the Royal Veterinary College gave a presentation on the interplay of parasites in stunting. Her research will examine the use of timely anthelminthic treatment to help prevent and/or alleviate key traits of childhood stunting. Our next speaker, Professor Stephen Allen of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, explored his research on how enhancing the developing gut microbiome can help improve gut health and, thereby, prevent stunting. From there, Dr. Lynn Ang and Dr. Julie Dockrell of UCL Institute of Education examined their research regarding the potential of early childhood development to mitigate or offset the effects of stunting. They stated that key outputs would include ‘best practice’ case studies for use in teacher training, and a comprehensive descriptor of a high-quality learning environment across the stunting typology.

Dr. Elaine Ferguson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine gave a presentation on behalf of her colleagues, Dr. Suneetha Kadiyala, Dr. Bhavani Shankar, Dr. Barbara Haesler, Paula Dominguez-Salas and Delia Grace. The presentation argued that there was a strong need for an inter-disciplinary team to understand the complexities of food systems and determine how to strengthen them for reducing malnutrition. Our next speaker, Dr. Cheikh Binetou-Fall, of Universite Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar, Senegal examined Senegal’s approach to tackling stunting. He emphasised that a typology of stunting and a greater understanding of the issue’s impact on cognition were urgently needed. Professor Val Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine then discussed effecting behavioural changes in nutrition to address stunting and related challenges. This interesting presentation included a case study on a mass media campaign in Baduta, which aimed to discourage mothers from feeding their children unhealthy snacks.

Following this, Dr. Marie Harder of the University of Brighton explored how her teams used values-based approaches to stunting. She explained, ‘When we talk about values, we need to use the words that people actually use’, which then helped researchers identify appropriate methods of measurement. Our final speaker, Dr. Umi Fahmida of the University of Indonesia, presented a fascinating case study on stunting reduction in her country.

After a short break, Professor Heffernan introduced our joining-up praxis, which comprised a roundtable with decision-makers. First, Nigel Rollins of the World Health Organisation explored his institution’s approach to addressing malnutrition and stunting. He called on decision-makers to look at growth in a more nuanced way and not merely focus on height or length as your only outcome. Following on from this, Sian Rowland of UK Research and Innovation gave a fascinating presentation about the Global Challenges Research Fund and its efforts to foster interdisciplinary research with ODA impacts. Following this, Fatiha Terki of the World Food Programme explained how the organisation's direct access to beneficiaries and technical expertise mean that it is able to generate evidence through research and turn it into actions that benefit the most vulnerable in its programmes. Our next speaker, James Birch of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, explored the Foundation’s work to uncover the holistic causes of malnutrition and better support the needs of decision-makers at a global level.

From there, Jonathan Wadsworth of the World Bank explored his organisation’s use of research evidence, and argued that there was an urgent need to explore and provide more information on the different aspects of this issue. Following this, Ana Antunes-Martins of the Medical Research Council gave a helpful overview of her organisation’s global nutrition and health research activities. Our penultimate speaker, Rose Ndolo of World Vision, gave an impassioned presentation on World Vision’s approach to the intractable challenge of stunting and stressed that strong coordination between partners was critical in addressing this major problem. Last but definitely not least, Lilly Schofield of Save the Children explained how the charity incorporates research into its nutrition work. She encouraged researchers to keep programmers informed as research developed so that partners on the ground could more easily incorporate cutting-edge solutions into ongoing programmes.

After lunch, our attendees plunged into an interactive workshop. Led by our facilitator, Ann Lukens, the session invited participants to identify the mechanisms needed to implement solutions on the ground quickly. Our attendees argued that this would require effective collaboration and communication, mechanisms in place to assure speed, flexibility and opportunity, as well joint ownership of the research agenda, among other excellent ideas.

Thank you to all those who attended our Action against Stunting Summit and made the day a success. An especially big thank you to the speakers for their stimulating presentations! You can watch the morning panel session here and Dr. Umi Fahmida's video presentation here