Wed, Jun 12, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Malnutrition stunts economies, as well as children

By Jay Naidoo

In particular, governments must invest in nutrition through budgets, introduce mandatory fortification of staple foods, curb junk food and improve quality control.

Similarly, civil society organizations must build robust advocacy and education programs that work with local communities to change unhealthy eating habits, emphasize the critical importance of exclusive breast-feeding in the first six months, and explain the link between lifestyle, diet, and exercise in preventing disease.

Finally, the business community should use its management expertise, marketing, technology, logistical capacity and reach to improve the quality and affordability of nutritious foods on the market.

Moreover, large companies should use their global supply chains to empower their workforces and women smallholder farmers.

Local, large-scale solutions are emerging. In Bangladesh, where the rate of malnutrition is among the highest in the world, an affordable vitamin and mineral supplement is now available that can be added to porridge and soup. BRAC, the world’s largest development NGO, and Bangladeshi pharmaceutical company Renata co-produce the supplement from locally available chickpeas and lentils, and tens of thousands of healthcare workers then distribute it.

Similarly, in India’s Rajasthan State, high-quality complementary foods produced by decentralized women’s self-help groups are improving the nutrition of children aged six to 36 months.

In Ghana, a new instant maize-based product enriched with vitamins and minerals is the first of its kind on the market, owing to its affordability and natural integration with breast-feeding. As a result, the nutrition of more than 1 million children will be improved during their first 1,000 days of life.

We need greater innovation in finding solutions. We need partnerships that leverage the knowledge and solutions that come from local communities. While we recognize the commitment of the UK in promoting the new Scaling Up Nutrition movement, coordinated by the UN, we also know that who sits at the table to design solutions determines who eats at the table later. By investing now in nutrition and improved food security, by 2020 we can lift 50 million people out of poverty, prevent stunting in 20 million children under the age of five and save 1.7 million lives.

Jay Naidoo is chair of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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