“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.
Anybody who has been through the California school system, like me, will immediately recognize the phrase, “Stop, Duck, and Cover” to mean one thing – EARTHQUAKE! On a lucky day, it would be a drill, but we’d often get the real deal. Not that we didn’t learn other things in school, but preparing for natural disasters, in our case earthquakes, was an integral part of our education in California. As soon as I would hear this phrase, I knew to stop what I was doing, duck down under my school desk, and clasp my hands together and cover the back of my neck to protect it from falling debris.