Press Release: UN Nutrition launches report on the essential role of aquatic foods in sustainable healthy diets for all

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UN inter-agency body highlights diverse aquatic foods as game-changing solutions in responding to the global call to action for a sustainable, resilient transformation of global food systems. 

5 May 2021, ROME – UN Nutrition’s first discussion paper on aquatic foods—with contributions from WorldFish and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)—aims to inform and steer policy and investments as part of the UN Food Systems Summit, in order to capture their potential in delivering sustainable healthy diets and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

 The paper adds to the growing narrative around sustainable healthy diets as part of a global call to action to transform food systems by detailing the role of diverse fish and other aquatic animals and plants, such as seaweed. Highlighting current evidence, the authors explore aquatic food system solutions to provide equitable nutritional benefits while maintaining the health of the planet. Recommendations include a number of strategies such as, shifting consumer behavior, ensuring the sustainability of production systems, reducing loss and waste in aquatic food supply chains, and improving the governance of aquatic resources for food and nutrition security.

Fish and other aquatic foods provide over 3 billion people with at least 20 percent of their animal protein, representing a central component to local food production, culture and diets. For many poor rural populations in many low- and middle-income countries fish—particularly small fish—may be the most accessible, affordable or preferred animal-source food. However, vulnerable groups such as pregnant, lactating women and young children do not consume enough aquatic foods, which are important for nutrition, health, physical and cognitive development in the first 1000 days.

Foods from our waters, marine and inland are a crucial building block of sustainable healthy diets that hold much promise. The discussion paper finds highly nutritious qualities of aquatic foods, which enable them to play a unique role in meeting elevated nutrient requirements during early childhood, pregnancy and lactation. The production and harvesting of many aquatic foods often has a much lower carbon footprint and fewer biodiversity impacts compared to production of many livestock. Despite this, present discourse on food systems fails to recognize the diversity of aquatic foods and their potential to contribute to sustainable healthy diets. In the lead up to the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, this discussion paper is an evidence-based tool poised to guide policy development to ensure a holistic, full representation to ensure aquatic foods are an essential part of food systems transformation for healthy people and planet.

Dr. Naoko Yamamoto, Chair of UN Nutrition and Assistant Director-General for Universal Health Coverage/Healthier Populations at WHO, said: “Aquatic foods offer much potential for making sustainable healthy diets a reality throughout the world, even in low-resource settings.”

One of the authors, Dr. Shakuntala Thilsted, WorldFish Global Lead for Nutrition and Public Health and Vice-Chair of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 Action Track 4: Advance Equitable Livelihoods, said: “Aquatic foods are a central part of a holistic transformation of food, land and water systems for healthy and resilient diets that work for both people and planet. This essential but often overlooked role of aquatic food systems must be integrated into game-changing solutions across the five action tracks of the UN Food Systems Summit.

This paper demonstrates how sustainable, resilient aquatic food systems are vital in ensuring safe and nutritious food for all while advancing equitable livelihoods.”

Another author, Stineke Oenema, Executive Secretary of UN Nutrition, said: “A transition to sustainable healthy diets that includes an array of aquatic foods requires coherent policy and strong and inclusive institutional and legal frameworks. Policies must look past aquatic foods in terms of production, economic efficiency, resource management, environment issues and pay more attention to the value aquatic foods have to people’s nutrition and health.”

Read the full discussion paper



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About UN Nutrition

UN Nutrition is a UN inter-agency coordination and collaboration mechanism for nutrition at the global and country levels.

The burden of malnutrition in the world remains inadmissibly high. While there has been progress on tackling undernutrition, overweight and obesity, it has been inconsistent and slow. The world is off course to meet the nutrition targets it has set for itself. At the current pace, hunger, undernutrition, overweight and obesity will continue to burden all countries and hinder social and economic development in the post-2030 world. An acceleration of progress is needed to accomplish the Agenda 2030 vision of ending hunger and malnutrition in the world, leaving no one behind.

UN Nutrition will work to overcome fragmentation, increase harmonization on nutrition and provide coordinated and aligned support to governments for greater impact for children, women and people everywhere.

Through UN Nutrition, UN agencies, programmes and funds leverage their collective strengths, build synergies, increase efficiencies and complementarities, and ultimately support governments and partners to deliver results on nutrition objectives and targets at all levels, from national to sub-national. The UN Nutrition Secretariat, operational from 1 January 2021, supersedes the UNSCN and the UN Network for SUN Secretariats. For more information, please visit:

About WorldFish

WorldFish is an international, nonprofit research and innovation institution that creates, advances, and translates aquatic food systems science into scalable solutions. We vision an inclusive world of healthy, well-nourished people and a sustainable blue planet, now and in the future. Our mission is to end hunger and advance progress on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals through science and innovation to transform food, land, and water systems with aquatic foods for healthier people and the planet.

For over 45-years, WorldFish’s data, evidence, and insights have shaped practices, policies, and investments to end hunger and advance sustainable development in low- and middle-income countries.  We have a global presence across 20 countries in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific, with 460 staff of 30 nationalities deployed where the greatest sustainable development challenges can be addressed through holistic aquatic food systems solutions. Embedded in local, national, and international partnerships, our work sets agendas, builds capacities, and supports decision-making for climate action, food and nutrition security, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, blue economy, OneHealth, and AgriTech, integrating gender, youth, and social inclusion.

A core element of the 2030 WorldFish Research and Innovation Strategy: Aquatic Foods for Healthy People and Planet is focused on building resilience of aquatic food systems to shocks, which is critical to COVID-19 response and recovery.

WorldFish is part of One CGIAR, the world’s largest agricultural research and innovation network.

For more information, please visit