Thursday, January 22, 2015

A growing child is a growing people

 The new Global Nutrition Report is a first-of-its-kind evaluation of food security in 193 countries produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute. More than two billion people around the world still suffer from poor nutrition. The effects of malnourishment during childhood last a lifetime, even if one’s food situation improves in adulthood. No matter how much better our local schools, hospitals and economy become, malnourished children can’t flourish. If a child’s brain isn’t properly fed, he or she can suffer irreversible cognitive challenges. Global investments in nutrition represent only 1 percent of aid spent each year. It’s simply not enough. Dollars directed toward education and healthcare and other critical development initiatives risk being wasted if we don’t create a solid foundation for proper nutrition early in life. The investigation into this problem found that the average adult that suffered from stunting as an infant has a much lower IQ compared to a consistently well-nourished adult, completes about four fewer years of school, and is significantly less likely to be employed in a white collar job. The deficits created by childhood malnutrition can permanently suppress an individual’s long-term earnings potential. The World Bank estimates that early-life food insecurity drops the average person’s lifetime wages by about 10 percent.

In South Africa -- arguably the most economically advanced country on the continent -- one in four children still goes to bed hungry every night. And as the South African economy has stalled, the proportion of kids under five suffering from “stunting” – physical deficiencies caused by chronic malnutrition -- has grown.

The situation is much worse in other African countries. In Madagascar, for example, half of all children under five suffer from stunting. In Congo, Liberia, Burundi and other low-income African countries, malnutrition by itself can compress GDP by up to three percent.

Africa is home to over half of the fastest growing economies in the world. This development is not exclusively a function of natural resources. Smart governments are cultivating high-tech sectors and setting the foundations for sustainable growth. Just look at Africa’s booming telecommunications sector, with more than a half-billion mobile connections on the continent today. Without proper nutrition, children will struggle to contribute creatively to Africa through the 21st century. Simply put, improving nutrition is the key to accelerating Africa’s growth and empowering our people. Effective nutritional support can be simple and inexpensive. Key programs include: fortification of staple foods with micronutrients; the addition of iodine to local salt supplies; and the creation of robust distribution systems for critical supplements like vitamin A and iron.

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