Every year the deaths of more than three million children under five – equivalent to the total UK population of that age – are attributable to undernutrition and yet the problem is being given low international priority.
This is according to a new report published by the Department for International Development which will form the evidence base for their forthcoming Nutrition Strategy.
80 per cent of the world’s undernourished children under 5 years of age live in just 20 countries. The strategy, to be published in the coming months, will increase DFID’s focus on tackling undernutrition globally and in countries with high concentrations of undernourished children.
Experts agree that the effects of poor nutrition – especially in pregnant women and children under two – are life-long, intergenerational and irreversible. Poor nutrition causes physical stunting and mental impairment, leading to reduced potential to succeed in education and the workplace.
The report makes a distinction between having enough food and having adequate nutrition. Despite having greater wealth and more food, high rates of malnutrition persist in South Asia. The Institute of Development Studies highlights that India accounts for one third of the developing world’s undernourished children.
The forthcoming DFID strategy will look at a range of measures to tackle nutrition directly and, critically, to address the drivers of undernutrition, such as food insecurity, ill health, lack of social protection and gender inequality.
Development Minister Mike Foster said:
“Some of this evidence is truly shocking. It is clear we need to focus on nutrition and turn around this hidden epidemic which kills so many children and damages the life chances of even more. That is why we are producing our comprehensive strategy.
“Though many countries are on track to reduce poverty, less than a quarter of developing countries are on track with the target to halve under-nutrition.
“Undernutrition is an underlying factor in 35 percent of preventable deaths among under-fives and 20 percent of maternal deaths. Promoting vitamin supplements for pregnant women and breastfeeding for babies are two simple, cost effective interventions that are part of the solution.
“But to really make a dent in the shocking scale of this neglected crisis, we have to work across food security, social protection, health and other sectors – and we have to work more effectively with our development partners and national governments to make nutrition a priority.
“It is clear there are strong moral and economic reasons for us to tackle the underlying causes of under-nutrition.”
The DfID Nutrition Evidence Paper can be viewed here: http://www.dfid.gov.uk/Documents/publications/nutrition-evidence-paper.pdf