by Martin Bloem
ROME -- I just read Nicholas Kristof’s excellent article on malnutrition in The New York Times and I think he really hit the nail on the head.
His key point is a basic but often ignored truth: that even when a stomach is full, it may not contain the right minerals and vitamins to keep the body healthy.
Kristof is, unfortunately, also quite correct when he says that ‘malnutrition is implicated in one-third to one-half of all child deaths each year’.
Critical for development
The most at-risk children are those under two years of age. This is the period that is the most critical for human mental and physical development. Getting it wrong means reduced brain development, stunting of the body and increased risk of disease for the rest of the child’s life. This also results in poorer school performance and lower economic productivity during adulthood.
With the food and financial crises, we expect the problem of malnutrition to get worse. There is a clear link between financial crises and malnutrition. As a WFP/UNICEF paper highlighted last year, a decrease in purchasing power means people buy fewer nutrient-rich foods. So the quality of their diet deteriorates, even though in terms of quantity it may stay the same. Then, if things continue to get worse, the quantity drops off as well.
Falling into chasm
The food and financial crises mean that millions more children are falling into the malnutrition chasm due to lack of access to good food and nutrition. WFP is supplying lifelines with food-based nutrition interventions like micronutrient powders (vitamins and minerals) to target the youngest and most vulnerable. WFP’s aim is to provide its beneficiaries with the right combination of food to help them develop into physically and mentally fit human beings. We want to prevent, rather than treat, malnutrition in its various forms. More about WFP and Nutrition
The Copenhagen Consensus, the group of eminent personalities mentioned in Kristof’s article, concluded that for every one dollar spent on micronutrient interventions, 17 dollars of benefits are created (e.g. better health, fewer deaths, increased future earnings).
Call for action
Kristof’s article is an urgent call for the UN, governments and citizens everywhere to act now. Allowing millions of children to grow up malnourished, will lead to a ‘lost generation’. Ensuring all children have the right food is one of the best investments any of us can make in the future.