Improvements in Nutrition Still a “Massive Unfinished Agenda”
Dr. Robert Black of Johns Hopkins University, who spoke at the Bread for the World Institute/Concern Worldwide “Sustaining Political Commitments to Scaling up Nutrition” event in Washington, DC on June 10, 2013, recently authored an article offering the opinion of the Lancet’s Maternal and Child Nutrition (MCN) Study Group on how best to build momentum for impact (registration required to read full article) of nutrition interventions.
Since the Lancet’s historic 2008 MCN series, global governments have committed funding and policy changes aimed at nutrition interventions in the 1,000 days window of opportunity, where they can be most effective and have a high rate of return. Bread for the World Institute reported on these worldwide efforts to improve MCN in a briefing paper in March 2013, which also noted the importance of sustaining the U.S. government’s political commitments. The Scaling up Nutrition movement was born, and now includes 41 countries where rates of malnutrition are highest and affect an entire range of a country’s development, from child mortality to disease susceptibility to even its gross domestic product (a measure of economic output).
What is the “massive unfinished agenda” that Dr. Black mentions? It is 165 million children who remain stunted. It is the fact that undernutrition causes 45% of deaths of all children under age 5 – amounting to three million children. It is also the “other side” of malnutrition, obesity, which is an “emerging burden establishing itself globally, affecting both poor and rich populations”.
Evidence in the Lancet series on MCN supports ten proven nutrition interventions, which if scaled up to cover 90% of a country’s need, would eliminate nearly a million of those child deaths under age 5 and reduce the number of stunted children by 33 million. The cost of this global 90% scaling up of nutrition interventions is estimated at $9.6 billion dollars per year. And what is the benefit? Saved lives and economic progress in developing countries are benefits that can be valued at many times that amount.
The second Lancet MCN series released last month focused on nutrition-sensitive activities across development sectors that address the indirect, or underlying, causes of malnutrition. Creating an enabling environment to have success requires sound data (an evidence base), cooperation and collaboration across development sectors (health, education, gender, water, sanitation, and hygiene), increased local capacities, and sustainable means to finance the interventions, from both public and private sources. Bread for the World Institute’s briefing paper on nutrition-sensitive development actions was instrumental in moving the discussion on nutrition-sensitive actions among government and civil society nutrition stakeholders forward.
Dr. Black notes the impetus for improving nutrition is stronger today than it was five years ago. The World Health Assembly nutrition targets, which include a 40% reduction of the global number of children under age 5 who are stunted, can be achieved by the year 2025 with “sufficient support”.
The support that is needed comes in many forms – political, financial, economic and social. The advocacy provided by Bread for the World and its members to the U.S. Congress and Obama Administration on efforts to reduce maternal and child malnutrition is key to sustaining the political leadership and policy momentum achieved so far. Our work on the agenda is unfinished as well.
This blog was cross-posted from Bread for the World Institute's Blog site.