By Justine Feighery, Save the Children
In today’s highly connected global economy, the growing middle-class in Asia has benefitted from increased access to a greater number of calories and more diverse food choices. Yet, in the Asia region, malnutrition – or lack of proper diet and nutrients – affects millions of children, severely limiting their potential. While there has been some progress on reducing malnutrition, a combination of global trends – climate change, economic uncertainty and volatile food prices – is putting the future progress on tackling malnutrition at risk.
A child dies from malnutrition every hour of every day. It’s an underlying cause of more than a third of children’s deaths – worldwide, more than 170 million children do not have the opportunity to reach their full potential because of poor nutrition in the earliest months of life.
In South Asia, an estimated 38 per cent of children under the age of 5 are stunted – a direct result of malnutrition. Therefore, accelerating the reduction of stunting in Asia is key to achieving Sustainable Development Goal #2 of ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition.
Why focus on the first 1,000 days?
Much of a child’s future – and in fact much of a nation’s future – is determined by the quality of nutrition in the first 1,000 days. The period from the start of a mother’s pregnancy through her child’s second birthday is a critical window, in which a child’s brain and body are developing rapidly and good nutrition is essential in laying the foundation for a healthy and productive future.
The right nutrition intake within this window can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn and rise out of poverty. It also benefits society, by boosting productivity and improving economic prospects for families and communities.
The majority of children who are malnourished are affected by stunting, defined as an extremely low height for one’s age. Children most at risk of stunting include those from the poorest households, those living in rural areas or urban slums, and those living in fragile or conflict-affected areas. Young children who are stunted face long-term consequences; their brains are less developed compared to their non-stunted peers, and when they enter school they are more likely to fall behind. Additionally, malnourished children often face nutrient deficiencies due to lack of a proper diet, which also affects healthy development. For example, iodine deficiency affects one-third of schoolchildren in developing countries and is associated with a loss of 10 to 15 IQ points. Childhood malnutrition can lessen productivity and economic growth – stunted children are predicted to earn an average of 20 per cent less when they become adults.
Save the Children
has prioritised reducing malnutrition as part of our #EveryLastChild
campaign, to make sure every child, no matter who he or she is, or where he or she was born, survives past his or her 5th birthday. We have designed and implemented large-scale nutrition programmes in 30 countries around the world, including Bangladesh, China, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam, in order to tackle this challenge. Our programmes focus on reaching adolescent girls, mothers and children through integrated health and nutrition programming. We partner with the private sector, as well as local governments to promote interventions that provide access to safe water and promote good hygiene practices; that raise the incomes of families with children to support a more diversified diet; and provide training on proper feeding practices that include adequate food and nutrition intake.
Save the Children is committed to making sure no child suffers from malnutrition, and that Every Last Child in Asia has the opportunity to reach their potential.
Justine Feighery is the Head of New Partnership Development at Save the Children’s Corporate Engagement Office in Singapore.