Accumulated scientific evidence shows that proper nutrition and stimulation in utero and during early childhood benefit physical and mental well-being later in life and contribute to the development of children’s cognitive and socioemotional skills. Yet, a critical but often overlooked fact in policy design and program development across the world is the association between maternal depression and childhood stunting -- the impaired growth and development measured by low height-for-age.
Health and Nutrition
In Sri Lanka, as in the rest of South Asia, improving agricultural production has long been a priority to achieve food security.
But growing more crops has hardly lessened the plight of malnutrition.
And children and the poorest are particularly at risk.
And more than half of the world’s 52 million children identified as wasted—or too thin for their height—live in South Asia.
Moderate-to-severe wasting rates ranged from 2 percent in Bhutan in 2015 to 21 percent in India in 2015–16, with rates above 10 percent for most countries in the region.
And sadly, much remains to be done to ensure children across South Asia can access the nutritious foods they need to live healthy lives.
Millions of children around the world are prevented from reaching their full developmental potential because of poor environment and nutrition. In the more extreme cases, these children face stunting — a condition that arises when children grow much less than is expected for their age.
In 2016, an estimated 155 million kids – about one quarter of all young children worldwide – were affected by stunting. Sadly, undernutrition claims about 3 million young lives every year – representing almost half of all deaths of children under the age of five.
Young children who lack access to pre-primary education also lack access to essential services that support a healthy childhood. Kids who are poorly nourished, who are stunted, and who do not receive adequate stimulation before their fifth birthday are likely to learn less at school and earn less as adults. They are also less ready to compete as adults in an increasingly digital economy.
In Central Asia, I am glad to say that we are starting to see progress on the path toward eliminating childhood stunting. In every country in the region, the share of children who are stunted is on the decrease. This is a remarkable achievement, due in large part to the commitment of governments and communities to address malnutrition. We must remain determined to ensure this progress continues.
Silvi is eight months old. She lives in a remote village in one of the poorest regions of Bangladesh.
Her mother Maya often reflects on her pregnancy and worries about her daughter’s wellbeing as she recalls her morning sickness, the uncertain and painful birth, and the long nights at Silvi’s side as the baby lay wide awake wailing, fighting one illness after the other.
She remembers, too, the thrills of hearing Silvi giggle at the sound of her rattle, and when she began to crawl.
Despite the little joys that her baby brings to Maya, Silvi’s early childhood was marked with apprehension: Shouldn’t she be a little heavier? When will she learn to walk? Will she be healthy and intelligent enough to earn a decent living when she grows up? Or would she be handed down her parents’ poverty and get married like Maya had to, at only sixteen?
But with the right kind of support, Silvi can have a chance at a better life and bring her family out of poverty.
Growing evidence has shown that .
Thus, —or too short for their age--, low birth weight is prevalent, and maternal nutrition remains poor.
Sadly, poor families like Maya’s are not utilizing services available to them.
Yet, these deficiencies -- often referred to as ‘hidden hunger’ -- go largely unnoticed and affect large populations.
Night blindness, a condition afflicting millions of pregnant women and children, stems from low intake of foods rich in essential nutrients like Vitamin A.
Budget constraints limit access to nutrient-rich foods for many families, who are unaware or unable to afford a nutritious diet.
National programs help supplement diets with Iron and Vitamin, but their scope is too narrow to adequately address these deficiencies.
Fortified Milk Helps Increase Vitamins Intake
When fortified with vitamin A and D, milk, which remains a staple for many Indians, can help alleviate dietary deficiencies when supplementation is not available.
Food fortification is a relatively simple, powerful and cost-effective approach to curb micronutrient deficiencies. It is in general socially accepted and requires minimal change in existing food habits.
The process is inexpensive and costs about 2 paisa per liter or about one-tenth of a cent. And because it only adds a fraction of daily recommended nutrients, the process is considered safe.
For these reasons, food fortification has been successfully scaled up in some emerging economies.
However, except for salt fortification with iodine, India has not yet achieved large-scale food fortification.
With India’s rapidly growing dairy industry, large-scale milk fortification of Vitamins A and D is a robust vehicle for increasing micronutrients intake across the population.
This blog post is a part of the International Open Access Week blog series.
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