Rising obesity rates are in the headlines – with increasing recognition of the major role that agriculture and food systems play in the epidemic. As agriculture economists interested in human nutrition, we wanted to take a look at what it all means, to look at how agriculture and food systems are part of the problem and how they are part of the solution. While conducting research for a recent report, a few things stood out to us.
“If breastfeeding did not already exist, someone who invented it today would deserve a dual Nobel Prize in medicine and economics.” - World Bank Vice President of Human Development, Keith Hansen
This is a sentiment long-shared by many of us in the nutrition community and as the global movement in nutrition grows, so does our body of evidence supporting how powerful nutrition interventions are for individuals and for societies.
Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, observed that knowledge is power and information is liberating. Indeed, the collection, analysis and dissemination of data and information should not be seen only as an instrument of scientific inquiry but more importantly, as a critical tool for guiding the formulation and implementation of policies to address complex problems in society.
Global experts report that a child’s early years are critical to the rest of life. Proper nutrition and brain stimulation improve physical growth and learning ability, while the absence of proper care and feeding in the first 1,000 days can lead to stunting, poor school performance and lower earnings as an adult.
This year’s World Breastfeeding Week calls attention to the powerful link between investing in breastfeeding and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
This blog first appeared in the New York Times on June 20, 2016.
Nutrition is not only fundamental to an individual’s cognitive and physical growth, it is also the cornerstone of all development efforts, whether improving education, health, income or equality, at home or abroad. And the most important time for good nutrition is in the 1,000 days from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to the second birthday of her child. What happens in those first days determines to a large extent the course of a child’s life – his or her ability to grow, learn, work, succeed – and, by extension, the long-term health, stability and prosperity of the society in which that child lives.
‘Stunted children today means stunted economies tomorrow.’ This sentiment, recently expressed by African Development Bank President Akin Adesina, encapsulates the sea change in how malnutrition is now viewed by global actors. Mr. Adesina was speaking at an event to launch a new global investment framework called Investing in Nutrition, co-authored by the World Bank and Results for Development Institute, which firmly establishes the importance of nutrition as a foundational part of development.
In 2000, one in three Peruvian children under 5-years-old suffered from chronic malnutrition. Several years later despite high economic growth and hundreds of millions of dollars spent in nutrition programs, the stunting rate barely inched down. Then, something happened.
Figure 1. Stunting Rate, Peru 2000-2015 (% of under-5 children)
À Analamanga, des jeunes femmes attendent leur tour, leur bébé dans les bras, au centre du Programme national de nutrition communautaire (PNNC). Un agent de santé vérifie le poids et l’âge d’une petite fille de six mois et note minutieusement ces informations. Pour la plupart des nouvelles mères, c’est le poids de leur bébé qui détermine avant tout l’état de santé de l’enfant. Pourtant, la taille constitue le paramètre le plus important afin d’anticiper l’évolution de la croissance et de la santé des nourrissons.
In Analamanga, Madagascar, young women stand with their babies at a Programme National de la Nutrition Communautaire (PNNC) center, one of Madagascar’s community nutrition sites. A nutrition worker cross-checks the weight and age of a six-month-old girl, diligently recording the figures. For many new mothers, the weight of their baby is the most important indicator of their child’s health. But in fact, height is the key metric for understanding their future health and development.