Improving child nutrition will reduce global hunger

A new Global Hunger Index (GHI) report released today in Washington DC, has identified malnutrition among children under two years of age as one of the leading challenges to reducing global hunger, stating that it can cause lifelong harm to health, productivity, and earning potential.

The report has thus recommended that “To improve their scores, many countries must accelerate progress in reducing child malnutrition,” adding that considerable research shows that the window of opportunity for improving nutrition spans from conception to age two.

It proposes further that to reduce global hunger, countries must target interventions where they will do the most good – among pregnant and breastfeeding women and children in their first two years of life.

The GHI also tasks countries to address the underlying causes of under-nutrition, including poverty, gender inequality, and conflict; engage, empower, and support those working at the local level to improve nutrition; and make nutrition, especially for young children, a political priority.

Marie Ruel, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) Poverty, Health and Nutrition division and co-author of the report, however warns that after age two, the negative effects of under-nutrition are largely irreversible.

For his part though, Tom Arnold, CEO of Concern Worldwide, contributors to the report, said “Ensuring appropriate and adequate nutrition during the first 1,000 days (in the life of a child) is absolutely critical,” adding, “This Global Hunger Index report sets out clear recommendations to inform and encourage the international community to take decisive action on this issue.”

But according to Bärbel Dieckmann, chairperson of Welthungerhilfe, co-authors of the report, “The health of women, specifically mothers, is crucial to reducing child malnutrition.” She adds that “Mothers who were poorly nourished as girls tend to give birth to underweight babies, perpetuating the cycle of under-nutrition,” and that “Nutrition interventions should be targeted towards girls and women throughout the life cycle and especially as adolescents before they become pregnant.”

Announcing the new GHI report, a press release issued by IFPRI disclosed that in Sub-Saharan Africa, low government effectiveness, conflict, political instability, and high rates of HIV and AIDS are among the major factors that lead to high child mortality and a high proportion of people who cannot meet their calorie requirements.

The release added that in some countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, for example Burundi, Madagascar, and Malawi, about half of the children experience stunted growth, due to poor nutrition.

“The burden of child under-nutrition could be cut by 25-36 percent by providing universal preventive health services and nutrition interventions for children under two and their mothers during pregnancy and lactation,” the press statement proffers.

Meanwhile, the Index scores countries based on three equally weighted indicators, which are: the proportion of people who are undernourished, the proportion of children under five who are underweight, and the child mortality rate. It continues that the biggest contributor to the global score is child under-nutrition, which accounts for almost half of the score.

The Index is calculated for 122 developing and transition countries for which data on the three components of hunger are available, discloses the statement.

It says while the highest regional GHI scores are for South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia has made much more progress since 1990, whereas in South Asia, the low nutritional, educational, and social status of women is among the major factors that contribute to a high prevalence of malnutrition in children under five.

The Global Index Report is published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Welthungerhilfe, and Concern Worldwide and has been released in advance of World Food Day which falls on Saturday, October 16, 2010.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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