Food for thought: Giving children the best start in the first 1,000 days

You’ve got to respect the tenacity of a babe in arms to hold up his head, focus his eyes, and grasp a grownup’s finger. An enormous amount of mental heavy lifting is going on behind those eyes, and a lot of high-quality fuel is needed to build the muscle and brain cells at work.

Mom’s milk is the perfect fuel, and it’s all that’s needed for the first six months of life. But a new report from World Vision called “The Best Start” makes clear that other simple and inexpensive measures can help ensure that millions more children get a healthy start toward a full life.

Why? Because:

  • Undernourishment is a child’s worst enemy. Around 2.5  million children die each year from a variety of ailments that can be traced back to one problem: not enough of the right nutrients.
  • The first 1,000 days -- from conception to age 2 -- are critical. A child who misses out on the proper nutrients during this time will not achieve his or her mental or physical potential.
  • Poor nutrition causes stunting. Globally, 195 million children under the age of 5 are stunted. Twenty-four countries account for more than 80 percent of the global burden of stunting.

  • Five of the top 10 most cost-effective development measures focus on malnutrition. If we want to see progress in the developing world, we need to put our money where it will do the most good: providing better nutrition for children.
  • The number-one cost-effective development solution is micro-nutrient supplements for children. Vitamin A and zinc supplements alone can save hundreds of thousands of children’s lives annually. Every year, 1.5 million children in the developing world die from diarrhea; zinc can reduce deaths from diarrhea by about 25 percent.
  • To give children an even better start on life, their mothers can take iron supplements, so they can be the strong caregivers their children need. Iron-deficiency anemia is an underlying cause in one-fifth of maternal deaths.
  • Good nutrition in developing countries can boost economic productivity by as much as 3 percent.

As Kevin Jenkins, president of World Vision International, has said in an introductory message about this report: "I hope that you are encouraged, as I am, by the good news in this report. There is nothing new that we need to invent. In fact, it’s pretty clear what we need to do.

"We must scale up education for mothers and pregnant women, energetically promote breast-feeding and encourage the provision of a varied diet for infants."

I echo the commitment of Kevin Jenkins and World Vision to provide the leadership and influence that will help our generation be remembered as one that treated the world’s hungriest children as though they were our own.

Download the full report: "The Best Start: Saving Children’s Lives in Their First 1,000 Days" (pdf)


Sources: Copenhagen Consensus Center; UNICEF report, "Progress for Children: A report card on maternal mortality"

Read more on the World Vision Blog about: child health nutrition

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