Globally, food systems are the largest employer of youth (12-29), particularly in low- and middle-income countries. As active members within their communities, youth often participate in multiple roles within food systems. These roles may include youth as producers (ie. farmers, fishers), wage earners (ie. retailers, restaurant workers, factory workers), entrepreneurs, or future professionals (ie. teachers, nutritionists, health care staff). Additionally, nutrition-related behaviors established during young adulthood have lasting health and productivity impacts later in life. Youth engagement in food systems programming is critical for improving the availability, accessibility, stability, and utilization of safe and nutritious foods.
To date, little evidence exists on the efficacy of youth-focused nutrition interventions, particularly in relation to their multiple roles and potentially increasing roles in transforming food systems. Considering these current literature gaps, more evidence is needed to fully understand how to best engage youth in food systems to positively influence diet quality and nutrition outcomes.
USAID Advancing Nutrition is gathering information on how and where youth are currently engaged in global food systems. Our work began with a desk review focusing on:
- youth and the food supply
- youth and the food environment
- youth and food and water utilization
- youth and cross-cutting activities within food systems
- engaging youth and diet outcomes.
Most of the examples of engaging youth across different roles fall under food production and food utilization. However, evidence of improved quality diet outcomes in any of these roles is limited. There is a clear need to build evidence around engaging youth throughout their diverse food system roles to improve their nutrition outcomes.
USAID Advancing Nutrition and the USAID are now developing a concept note on guidance and recommendations related to youth in food systems for USAID investments and implementing partners. Using implementation research, the project is assessing the most effective ways to engage youth and improve the roles of young people in food systems in order to improve their diet quality and nutrition outcomes, with the potential for wider nutrition improvements at the household level.