Uncounted - Food for Thought
Today, Save the Children launches a new report, Food for Thought: Tackling Child Malnutrition to unlock potential and boost prosperity. We are launching this ahead of the Nutrition for Growth summit, which will be hosted by the UK and Brazilian Governments
For years, the importance of tackling malnutrition has been deprioritised by political leaders. Progress against malnutrition has remained stubbornly high, lacking the political champions or the will from world leaders to tackle it head on. Although it is the underlying cause of over 2 million child deaths every year, it is not recorded on death certificates, and so for too long it has remained an invisible, uncounted problem.
This in turn means that large inequalities in malnutrition rates remain. Around the world, people born in the poorest 40% of households in their country are on average 2.8 times more likely to be stunted that their richer peers, a figure that has remained worryingly high over two decades. These children are in turn more likely to have children who are stunted; and their ability to lift themselves out of poverty through hard work and innovation is curtailed.
We know that malnutrition costs lives, and that investing in proven interventions to tackle it is the right thing to do. Food for Thought sets out how tackling nutrition is also the smart thing to do. Good nutrition in the early years is essential for children to grow up as empowered, intelligent and productive members of society.
The new research in the report shows that Children who are malnourished during childhood are nearly 20% less likely to be able to read a simple sentence, and more likely to have fallen behind at school. They then go on to earn as much as 20% less as adults than their better-nourished counterparts. Save the Children also estimates that at a global level, today’s malnutrition levels could cost the global economy up to $125bn each year when today’s children grow up.
Last week, a new Lancet study hit the UK headlines, showing how iodine deficiency among British pregnant women was having a damaging effect on their children’s IQ. This is exactly the type of effect that damages the cognitive development of millions of children around the developing world each year. But in developing countries, where deficiencies of iodine and other nutrients are much more widespread, the evidence on the long term impacts has often been missing, allowing the impact it has on the lives of children and the billions of dollars’ of economic cost to remain uncounted.
The long term impacts of nutrition for children’s and countries’ development show that the current status quo, in which donors dedicate just 0.37% of ODA to nutrition, is unacceptable and unsustainable. The Nutrition for Growth event could provide this historic change, and transform the lives of millions of children. Through the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, many developing countries have set out plans, with costings attached, on how they will tackle malnutrition. These plans are ready to be implemented, and all that is needed now is for them to be financed.
And now is a crucial time for these plans to be funded. With child mortality declining, many developing countries are in the next 20 years about to experience a demographic dividend – a larger number of children who will reach working age – can earn money, fuel economies and create prosperity. But these dividends will not generate pay-offs for countries if workers are too unhealthy and badly educated to be productive. Addressing malnutrition is a key way to ensure a healthy workforce to allow countries to benefit from these demographic opportunities. This problem must never again go uncounted.
On the 8th June, as part of the preparations for the G8, the UK will host a ‘Nutrition for Growth’ event with the Brazilian government and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. This is the perfect opportunity for governments and donors to ensure that these plans are fully funded. We look to the Prime Minister to use his convening power to make this a reality.
This blog has been cross posted from Save the Children's blog.