Due to lack of nutrients, over three million children die each year. And hundreds of millions of people are physically and/or mentally underdeveloped because they were malnourished in the first years of their lives. The problem of malnutrition in developing countries could be combatted successfully with an annual investment of $ 9.6 billion. Good nutrition leads to better developed individuals and that, in turn, also results in development of countries, was the message of the symposium 'NL for NIL malnutrition’ on October 11 in The Hague.
The Lancet Series on Nutrition, 2008 and 2013
By giving supplements to pregnant women and young mothers, who are also convinced to breastfeed their babies for at least six months, the number of infant deaths could be reduced by 43.5 per cent. Maternal mortality will decrease dramatically too, if more iron and calcium is added to the diets of young mothers. By subsequently providing the right baby food and vitamin A and zinc supplements to children from 6 to 59 months, their chances in life increase substantially. This has become apparent from evaluation of the ‘nutrient-specific interventions’ that were carried out following 'The Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition’, a series of leading scientific publications from 2008 that have radically changed the view on malnutrition. Five years later, in June 2013, a second series was published: ‘The Lancet Maternal and Child Nutrition Series 2013'.
Ten recommendations for nutrition
‘If the ten proven nutrition-specific interventions were scaled-up from existing population coverage to 90%, an estimated 900,000 lives could be saved in 34 high nutrition-burden countries’, the scientists wrote in the Series of 2013. They added that the prevalence of stunting could be reduced by 20% and that of severe wasting by 60%. ‘This would reduce the number of children with stunted growth and development by 33 million’, they stated.
Damage caused by malnutrition is irreversible
In addition to the dietary recommendations for mother and child, The Lancet Series describes what other interventions are needed to successfully combat malnutrition. The bottom line is: people need to be made aware that a deficiency of nutrients in the first thousand days of life, starting from conception, has irreversible consequences for the development and the immune system of children.
Education for girls is very important
During the congress NL for NIL malnutrition, co-organised by Wageningen UR at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, scientists presented figures that showed a very obvious connection between the number of years that girls go to school in an area and the prevalence of stunted growth there. The facts also disclosed a clear link between malnutrition at an early age and chronic diseases later in life was. Striking: children whose diet is not balanced stand a far greater chance of becoming obese later in life than children that get a healthy start in life.
Breaking the poverty cycle
With an investment of ‘merely’ $ 9.6 billion a year in food and nutrition security, the poverty cycle could be broken. Because people that can fully develop themselves are more productive and are more able to care for themselves and loved ones. Everyone at the symposium agreed on that; scientists – including some authors of the Lancet Series – as well as representatives of non-governmental organisations, the food industry and the national government. A common agenda is important, emphasized Paul Verschuren, Special Envoy Food and Nutrition for Development of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as all parties must work together to tackle malnutrition successfully.
Verschuren called this public-private approach 'the Dutch Diamond'. Verschuren: "Dutch organisations and companies, with support of the government, get food and nutrient security on the agenda in other countries. We achieve this by doing what we are good at. For example, parties specialised in logistics – like TNT – came up with a system that drastically shortened the waiting time for food transportation trucks at border posts between two countries. And Kadaster is involved in setting up land registry systems to keep track of who owns what land. What we do is not ‘old-fashioned aid’ or ‘modern trade’, it is old-fashioned trade and modern aid."