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Ending hunger around the world is not just about providing people with enough food—it’s also about providing the right nutrients. Globally, 149 million children are stunted and will not have the chance to achieve their full potential because of poor nutrition early in life. Roughly, 49 million children at any given time experience acute malnutrition, an often life-threatening condition.
In order to prevent the 2.6 million childhood deaths each year that result from malnutrition, addressing the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday is crucial. With the right nutrition during this period, we can ensure healthy body and brain development, stronger immune systems, more years of education, and a higher lifetime earning potential for millions of children.
In fact, studies show that children who get proper nutrition before their second birthday:
They are also more likely to have healthier families, breaking the generational cycle of malnutrition. Recent analysis has also shown that for every $1 invested in improving nutrition in a country, $16 is returned to the economy there through decreased health care costs and increased economic productivity.
Evidence shows the importance of improving nutrition in women and children. However, the world is not on track to meet global nutrition targets set for 2025 and 2030. To help countries achieve their own development and economic goals, we must accelerate global progress on malnutrition.
The U.S. government plays a crucial role in the global fight to end maternal and child malnutrition. Efforts to end malnutrition include improving access to and availability of nutritious foods. It also involves humanitarian assistance and improvements in development areas such as agriculture, education, health, social protection, water, sanitation, hygiene, and women’s empowerment.
Recognizing the importance of integrating of all these sectors, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) released a Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy in 2014 as a roadmap toward reducing child stunting and ending preventable maternal and child deaths. The U.S. government in 2016 launched its Global Nutrition Coordination Plan to better enable collaboration across the federal government on global nutrition research and programs.
Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global food security initiative, serves as an important vehicle for implementing these strategies and plans. Through Feed the Future and other initiatives, the U.S. government has helped 3.4 million more children live free from the devastating consequences of stunting.
To maximize the full potential of USAID programs across sectors, a transformative change is needed that puts mother and child at the center. All U.S. development and humanitarian investments that support mothers and children can and should work more effectively together to maximize impact and progress.
Further strengthening U.S. government commitment on global maternal and child nutrition is urgently needed through both increased funding and by exploring new, innovative approaches to accelerate progress to end maternal and child malnutrition. We must do our part to help meet global targets on stunting, breastfeeding, anemia, and wasting by 2025, and to end malnutrition by 2030.
"Globally, 151 million children are stunted and will not have the chance to achieve their full potential."
By Jordan Teague, senior international policy advisor
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