For those brought into this world without access to adequate nutrition, the first two years of life can have negative effects that can last a lifetime. Early malnutrition, even when followed by a healthy diet and restored physical health, can hinder a person’s capability to live to their full potential physically, mentally and emotionally. One hundred and sixty five million children suffer from early malnutrition worldwide and 2.5 million of these children die every year. While there has been significant progress made in its alleviation in recent years, it remains of utmost importance that the global community continues to work toward stopping early malnutrition in its tracks.
- Stunted growth: A deficiency in iron during the first two years of life can prevent a person from growing to their full potential. While undernourishment in terms of weight can be alleviated by a healthier diet, stunted growth is irreversible.
- Lowered immunity: Children who lack vitamin A in their diet experience a lowered immunity due to the deficiency’s interference with the body’s ability to create white blood cells. This lowers the ability to fight off infections and diseases even as the person ages.
- Impaired brain development: Inadequate iron and iodine intake during pregnancy and/or infancy can lead to a lower intellectual performance throughout life. Iron-deficiency often leads to anemia, which impairs the brain’s ability to develop fully.
- Personality disorders: Early malnutrition can lead to permanent psychological damage including increased incidences of anxiety, hostility, anger, depression and an inability to trust. Not only does it hinder growth in the areas of the brain associated with personality development, but early food deprivation can also instill a sense of wariness and mistrust later in life.
In 1996, the World Food Summit set a target to halve the number of undernourished people worldwide by 2015. In 1990, the estimated number of undernourished people in the developing world was about 824 million. The estimated number in 2010 climbed to 925 million people. This figure indicates that the international community has not made adequate progress toward the alleviation of malnutrition.
Nevertheless, the story of early malnutrition does come with some good news. In the past 30 years, global early malnutrition has decreased by about 40%. While there has been significant progress made in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia, however the problem persists in Africa, where malnutrition has only decreased by about 4% in the past 30 years.
Fortunately, many global leaders have set their political intention toward bringing an end to global hunger and malnutrition. Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, aims to end extreme poverty by 2030. David Cameron, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, has set his political will toward reducing the number of malnourished children to 20 million by 2020. And on June 8th of this year, the United Kingdom and Brazil will host the first-ever global Nutrition for Growth pledging event that aims to mobilize new policy and financial initiatives to combat malnutrition.
According to Barbara Drake and Diane Gainforth of RESULTS, a nonpartisan citizens lobby to end poverty, the United States needs to take a much stronger lead in the fight against malnutrition. The U.S. should pledging at least $450 million at the Nutrition for Growth event. The United States invests very little in global nutrition with the federal budget currently allocating only .3 percent of the 1 percent slated toward federal aid for nutrition-based programs.
The international community already possesses the information and tools necessary to decrease and even eliminate early malnutrition. All the world needs is a push in the right direction. This will most likely come from an increase in aid mobilized towards properly addressing the needs of the world’s under- and malnourished population.
– Kathryn Cassibry
Source: World Food Programme,World Hunger Education Service,Tampa Bay Tribune