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Cassandra Yamasaki: Child Malnutrition: A Crisis Without Borders

This past semester, I had the pleasure of being one of six students who participated in the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Having represented Human Rights Advocates (HRA) at the 56th session of the Commission of the Status of Women last year, I was no stranger to the commitment, dedication, and perseverance it takes to be an effective advocate. However, I was also keenly aware that every new opportunity breeds its own set of challenges and unexpected obstacles. With this in mind, I understood that achieving my advocacy goals this year at the Council hinged on my ability to be patient, persistent, and most importantly, flexible in both my lobbying efforts and the framing of my chosen topic.

Noting that the Council had dedicated an entire day-long session to the right of the child to the highest attainable standards of health, I focused my research on the subject of child malnutrition. Although most of the work in this area has focused on combating child undernutrition, including acute malnutrition (defined by a deficit in caloric intake) and chronic malnutrition (defined by inadequate nutritional variation), I wanted to expand the scope of my project to also cover the issue of overnutrition (observed as either overweight, obesity, or an excess of added sugars and saturated fats in the diet). This facet of child malnutrition is particularly alarming not only because it affects 155 million children worldwide, but also because it creates a double-burden on states that cannot afford the costs associated with high prevalences of both under- and overnutrition. Moreover, given the persistent challenges to nutritional security, such as poverty, conflict and political instability, and natural disasters, developing a comprehensive strategy for eradicating child malnutrition requires an evaluation and understanding of the problem in all its forms.

Following the submission of my written statement to the UN (see, A/HRC/22/NGO/38) and a longer report to HRA (, I knew that I had my work cut out for me. Not surprisingly, most of the discussions on child malnutrition at the Council centered exclusively on food security, rather than nutritional adequacy. This was especially true at the early drafting sessions for the Resolution on Child Health and in the text of the resolution itself. However, this provided me with a powerful starting point for my lobbying efforts. I quickly engaged in conversations with the most influential delegations at the drafting sessions, educating them about child overnutrition in their own countries, and urging them to support inclusion of the term “overnutrition” in the resolution. While many delegations were receptive to my proposal, Uruguay – the delegation charged with leading the resolution – was the most helpful in expanding my advocacy efforts. Indeed, as a result of several successful discussions with Uruguay, my proposal for incorporating “overnutrition” was provided to all of Uruguay’s EU colleagues.

Unfortunately, “overnutrition” did not appear in the final draft of the Resolution on Child Health, but several concepts relating to overnutrition did, including “non-communicable diseases,” “physical inactivity,” “unhealthy diet,” and a recommendation for mitigating the adverse impact of business marketing practices on children (See, Resolution on the Rights of the Child, A/HRC/RES/22/32). Although these feats may be small in the broader context of the resolution, I recognize that the strides I made as a human rights advocate during my time at the Council certainly were not. As a two-time veteran of the Frank C. Newman International Human Rights Clinic, I honestly believe that one of the greatest challenges for any advocate is raising awareness about the impact and importance of a marginalized or largely untouched issue. To this effect, I am proud to say that HRA’s advocacy efforts at the Council were successful, and that I am forever grateful to Professor de la Vega, HRA, and the USF community for affording me the opportunity to partake in such a meaningful and empowering experience.

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