Issues: Malnutrition

Ethiopia Debre Libanos Epicenter - Nursery Students 2012 - by David Snyder.jpg

Clearly a global priority, one of the targets of the very first Millennium Development Goals – eradicate extreme hunger and poverty – is to “reduce by half the proportion of children that are malnourished.” Malnutrition is more than the food deprivation typically perceived as “hunger.” Irrespective of the amount of food that is available, malnutrition occurs when the variety or quality of food is insufficient to support proper development and health. Malnutrition cannot be solved by food aid and, more often than not, when a person has grown up in a state of malnourishment, the effects are irreversible.

An estimated 15 percent of all births in developing countries result in incidences of these low-birth weight babies – making malnutrition the key factor contributing to more than one-third of global child deaths (2.6 million) per year. Considering many cases of infant malnourishment can be solved by simply ensuring exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life, this number is shockingly unacceptable.

Often, the reason for insufficient breastfeeding is due to the mother’s own youth and lack of knowledge on the subject of nutrition. In developing countries, girls traditionally eat last and least – as addressed in this 2010 report on gender, nutrition and agriculture co-authored by The Hunger Project and Bread for the World – and are therefore ill-equipped to combat poor nutrition in the community. Additionally, the prevalence of early childhood marriage for young girls leads them to giving birth earlier in life. A young, malnourished woman gives birth to a low-birth weight baby who, already affected by the malnourishment and lack of resources of her mother, suffers from an impaired immune system. This nutritionally deficient baby has reduced muscle strength, is stunted and becomes a low-weight and height teenager who, in turn, becomes a young, malnourished woman married too young – starting the Cycle of Malnutrition all over again.

Children born into this cycle have a higher incidence of diabetes and heart disease and tend to have cognitive disabilities and a lower IQ, affecting their performance in school and their job opportunities as adults – forever diminishing their future opportunities.

The Hunger Project has joined more than 100 organizations representative of governments, civil society, the private sector, philanthropic foundations and the research community committed to putting a hard stop to the cycle. We worked to articulate a set of concrete steps to making nutrition a development priority called the Framework for Scaling-Up Nutrition (SUN). The SUN Framework addresses the development and implementation of political, operational and financial tactics necessary to stop the cycle of malnutrition among women and children.

In an effort to focus the SUN Framework’s efforts and develop swift and efficient approaches, a select  group of organizations endorsing the Framework have formed a coalition called the 1,000 Days initiative. This powerful NGO partnership “promotes targeted action and investment to improve nutrition for mothers and children in the 1,000 days between a woman's pregnancy and her child's second birthday when better nutrition can have a life-changing impact on a child's future and help break the cycle of poverty.”

The most recent Copenhagen Consensus, a comprehensive study by the world’s leading economic experts, has declared efforts like 1,000 Days, striving towards “bundled micronutrient interventions to fight hunger and improve education” to be the most cost-effective and beneficial efforts the development community can undertake. The findings show that, for every dollar spent in the fight against malnutrition, there is more than a $30 payoff to the global economy. This makes the elimination of malnutrition “one of the most compelling investments...the benefits from doing so – in terms of increased health, schooling, and productivity – are tremendous,”  according to Nobel laureate economist Vernon Smith.

What We Do

  • Maternal and childhood health education. At THP epicenter trainings, tens of thousands of women attend workshops in which health care professionals explain the basics of nutrition for both children and mothers and the importance of pre- and postnatal care. In 2010, over 14,000 women accessed antenatal care services at our epicenters in Africa.
  • Maternal and childhood health monitoring. Children enrolled in the epicenter nursery schools are guaranteed access to a full nutritious meal every day they are in attendance. Professionals at the adjacent epicenter health clinics oversee on-going child health and weight monitoring.
  • Celebrating girl children. In Bangladesh, THP founded National Girl Child Day to celebrate and raise awareness for the rights of girl children – battling traditions, such as early marriage, dowry and girls-eating-last, that contribute to the Cycle of Malnutrition.
  • Trainings on sustainable farming practices. Local agricultural experts teach THP partners how to create and manage community farms. Villagers learn techniques to sustainably improve crop yields, providing entire communities with not only increased access to food but the knowledge necessary to diversify crops and therefore create nutritional diets.
  • Promote community leadership roles for women. Our Women’s Empowerment Program (WEP) empowers women to become strong leaders in their households and communities. In Africa, every Epicenter Committee – a council that is elected to be responsible for all epicenter activities – must include an equal number of women and men.
  • In Senegal, as an income-generating activity for women, epicenter food processing units produce small packets of nutritious food for children. The packets are distributed to children in the community as well as sold to NGOs in the region, including the World Food Programme.
  • THP-Malawi launched a 1,000 Days initiative in which they conduct awareness campaigns on safe motherhood, carry out vaccination campaigns targeting children under five years old, and train mother-to-mother (M2M) support groups on safe motherhood and nutrition.