Is Every Child Getting Enough Nutritious Food?

Is Every Child Getting Enough Nutritious Food?


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The answer is ‘No’, it is not even close to enough.

One of the big themes in development under the spotlight these days from donors, the international community, and governments, is nutrition. The answer to why, is simple: it is one of the biggest overlooked problems that has the potential to provide one of the highest possible returns on investment. Every $1 invested in tackling under-nutrition can yield $16 in economic returns[1]. Today, the world has the knowledge, evidence, and means to address the problem, but we lack concerted efforts and motivation to tackle the challenge head on.

I work as a Deputy Programme Manager for Nutrition in DFID Pakistan. Prior to joining DFID two years ago, I was working on conflict resolution projects through strategic communications. I was passionate about my work and spent over four years on conflict resolution work because the issue is tangible and affects all our lives one way or another in Pakistan. When I joined DFID I was worried about the value of nutrition programmes, but after a while realised that like conflict and extremism, nutrition is also a major world problem. We have not fully realised the gravity of this problem and for that reason, part of the problem is rightly called "hidden hunger".

My motivation to write this blog is to speed up the “ah ha” moment for everyone around me so we can all work together to rise to the challenge. The statistics on malnutrition are distressing; their impact devastating:

  • Globally, malnutrition affects one in three people[1]
  • 2 billion people are deficient in micronutrients[1]
  • Nearly 2 billion people are overweight or obese[1]
  • 159 million children under five are stunted[1]
  • 50 million children are wasted[1]
  • About half of children’s deaths are due to undernutrition[2]

What is the cost we are paying for this neglect? Economically, depending on the country and how chronic the situation is, it can reach 11% of GDP[1]. But those who have suffered from poor nutrition – especially in the first months of their lives – may never realise their full potential. Their intellectual capacity, their height, and their ability to work may never be what it could have been.

What can we do to contribute? The answer is not difficult. Let us start thinking nutritionally. We can do so by integrating nutrition, in other words including specific pro-nutrition actions, in programmes in other sectors. For example:

  • In agriculture, we can incorporate nutrition interventions into smallholder agriculture and rural livelihoods programmes[3].
  • Social protection and safety net programmes can target vulnerable populations, who are often at risk of malnutrition. We can undertake analysis of the cost of a nutritious diet and use it to inform the size of the cash transfer[4].
  • Education related programmes can include basic knowledge of good nutrition practices in school curricula[3].
  • Research projects can cover bio-fortification as well as increasing yields of nutrition-dense staple foods[3].
  • Family planning programmes can focus on maternal nutrition to break the cycle of giving birth to a weak and small baby who does not grow to his or her full potential - both physically and mentally[4].
  • Governance programmes can increase policy coherence with particular focus on unintended negative consequences on nutrition policies in different sectors[3].

It is the need of the hour to create synergies and work together towards a world where every child is able to achieve his/her physical and intellectual potential.

[4] Five Proven Measures to Reduce Stunting. Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT). April 10, 2016

Photo: Laos: Nutritious meals are bringing more children to school​ © Bart Verweij / World Bank

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This is a problem also addressed locally by programs designed in the community specifically for conditions of the community. We have a program we call Healthy Children, Healthy Future in the province of Cañar, Ecuador. This program is a nutrition education intervention which involves raising local grains, legumes, and tubers on school plots. Students learn the nutritional benefits of the foods, prepare dishes for themselves and their schoolmates, and present results at festivals and on local media outlets. Children become advocates for healthy diets. The program is successful and growing, but, of course, needs more resources to become self sustaining.

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Alan Adams

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