Each Child: A Reason for Hope

The birth of a child is such reason for hope. The occasion brings joy and conjures dreams about what this child might become. This is true the world over!

One of the biggest new ideas in international development comes from economists, academics, doctors, politicians, and aid workers. There appears to be a broadening convergence of evidence confirming the profound ways in which proper nutrition in the earliest years of life influences a person’s ability to grow, learn, and work.

The 1,000-day period from the beginning of pregnancy to a child’s second birthday will largely determine your child’s health, ability to learn in school and perform at a future job. It all seems so obvious… proper nutrition for the mother and child, as well as good sanitation and personal hygiene, are vital to prevent stunting of the body and brain.

For years, ensuring good nutrition during the first 1,000 days was largely absent from national and global development priorities. Efforts to improve young lives and brighten future prospects focused on getting children into school. It has been in primary schools where interventions related to childhood nutrition usually begin.

Yes, global resolve and cooperation are essential. But all is not dependent on governments and creating new bureaucracies. Much is already within reach of families and villages. Farming needs to be diversified by growing more nutrient-rich crops for household consumption. Homes need to maintain clean living environments. Culturally ingrained behaviors such as women eating last at mealtime even when they are pregnant or breastfeeding must be challenged and changed.

In 2012 some of the world’s leading economists and development specialists gathered to consider a question: If they had an extra $75 billion to improve the state of the world, which problem would they solve first? The group declared that investments to eliminate hunger and malnutrition would do the world the greatest good. It found that improving child nutrition was also the most cost-effective intervention, with a return on investment of at least 30 to 1.

In essence, malnutrition keeps poor countries poor. This is true in the United States as well. We are beginning to acknowledge connections between poor nutrition in the 1,000 days and poor school performance, as well as increasing rates of obesity and diabetes.

When he hosted a Scaling Up Nutrition summit in 2012, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel estimated that as many as 500,000 of the city’s citizens could be living in “food deserts” without nearby access to affordable vegetables, meat, and fresh fruits, leading to unhealthy diets centered on cheaper junk food and readily available fast food.

It is in these 1,000 days where so many of America’s social problems begin: failing health, failing students and schools, a weakened labor force and high crime rates. What might a single child have contributed to the world had he or she not been stunted during the first 1,000 days?

Every child is a reason for hope.  Each looks to us to be nourished and nurtured.  What are we to do?

___________________________

I am indebted to Roger Thurow’s brilliant article in the May 2014 issue of The Atlantic for this information. I encourage everyone to read his entire report [here].

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